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TABLE-TALK: 

ORIGINAL ESSAYS 

ON 

MEN AND MANNERS. 

BY 

WILLIAM HAZLITT. 

THIRD EDITION, 



VOL. II. 




LONDON: C. TEMPLEMAN, 
GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 



PR 
mi a 

v. 2 



LONDON : 
Printed by Reynell and Weight, 
16 little pdlteney street. 



CONTENTS 

OF 

THE SECOND VOLUME. 



PAGE 



Essay I. — On Coffee-house Politicians . . 1 

Essay II. — On the Aristocracy of Letters . 33 

Essay IIL— On Criticism .... 53 

Essay IV. — On great and little Things . . 79 
Essay V.— On familiar Style . . .112 

Essay VI.— On Effeminacy of Character . . 125 

Essay VII Why distant Objects please . . 140 

Essay VIII. — On Corporate Bodies . . .159 
Essay IX. — Whether Actors ought to sit in the 

Boxes 177 

Essay X. — On the Disadvantages of Intellectual 

Superiority 193 

Essay XL— On Patronage and Puffing . . 213 

Essay XII. — On the Knowledge of Character . 242 

Essay XIII.— On the Picturesque and Ideal . 272 
Essay XIV.— On the Fear of Death . . .281 

Essay XV. —The Opera 300 

Essay XVI.— On the Conduct of Life . . 308 

Essay XVII.— The Shyness of Scholars . . 342 

Essay XVIII. —The Main Chance ... 363 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/tabletalkorigina02hazl 



ESSAY I. 

ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



Theke is a set of people who fairly come 
under this denomination. They spend their 
time and their breath in coffee-houses and other 
places of public resort, hearing or repeating 
some new thing. They sit with a paper in their 
hands in the morning, and with a pipe in their 
mouths in the evening, discussing the contents 
of it. The 6 Times,' the 6 Morning Chronicle/ and 
the 6 Herald ' are necessary to their existence ; 
in them " they live and move and have their 
being." The Evening Paper is impatiently ex- 
pected, and called for at a certain critical minute : 
the news of the morning become stale and 
vapid by the dinner-hour. A fresher interest 
is required, an appetite for the latest-stirring 
information is excited with the return of their 
meals ; and a glass of old port or humming ale 
hardly relishes as it ought without the infusion 
of some lively topic that had its birth with the 

B 



2 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

day, and perishes before night. "Then come 
in the sweets of the evening :" — the Queen, 
the coronation, the last new play, the next 
fight, the insurrection of the Greeks or Neapo- 
litans, the price of stocks, or death of kings, 
keep them on the alert till bed-time. No ques- 
tion comes amiss to them that is quite new — 
none is ever heard of that is at all old. 

" That of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker." 

The World before the Flood or the Intermediate 
State of the Soul are never once thought of — 
such is the quick succession of subjects, the sud- 
denness and fugitiveness of the interest taken 
in them, that the ' Twopenny Post-Bag ' would 
be at present looked upon as an old-fashioned 
publication, and the Battle of Waterloo, like the 
proverb, is somewhat musty. It is strange that 
people should take so much interest at one time 
in what they so soon forget: — the truth is, they 
feel no interest in it at any time, but it does for 
something to talk about. Their ideas are served 
up to them, like their bill of fare, for the day ; 
and the whole creation, history, war, politics, 
morals, poetry, metaphysics, is to them like a 
file of antedated newspapers, of no use, not even 
for reference, except the one which lies on the 
table ! — You cannot take any of these persons 
at a greater disadvantage than before they are 
provided with their cue for the day. They ask 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 3 

with a face of dreary vacuity, " Have you any 
thing new ? " — and on receiving an answer in 
the negative, have nothing farther to say. Talk 
of the Westminster Election, the Bridge-street 
Association, or Mr Cobbett's Letter to John 
Cropper of Liverpool, and they are alive again. 
Beyond the last twenty-four hours, or the narrow 
round in which they move, they are utterly to 
seek, without ideas, feelings, interests, appre- 
hensions of any sort ; so that if you betray any 
knowledge beyond the vulgar routine of Second 
Editions and first-hand private intelligence, you 
pass with them for a dull fellow, not acquainted 
with what is going forward in the world or with 
the practical value of things. I have known a 
person of this stamp censure John Cam Hob- 
house for referring so often as he does to the 
affairs of the Greeks and Romans, as if the affairs 
of the nation were not sufficient for his hands : 
another asks you if a General in modern times 
cannot throw a bridge over a river without 
having studied Caesar's Commentaries ; and a 
third cannot see the use of the learned languages, 
as he has observed that the greatest proficients 
in them are rather taciturn than otherwise, and 
hesitate in their speech more than other people. 
A dearth of general information is almost neces- 
sary to the thorough-paced coffee-house poli- 
tician 5 in the absence of thought, imagination, 
sentiment, he is attracted immediately to the 



4 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

nearest common-place, and floats through the 
chosen regions of noise and empty rumours 
without difficulty and without distraction. Meet 
" any six of these men in buckram/' and they 
will accost you with the same question and the 
same answer : they have seen it somewhere in 
print, or had it from some city-oracle, that 
morning; and the sooner they vent their opinions 
the better, for they will not keep. Like tickets 
of admission to the theatre for a particular 
evening, they must be used immediately, or 
they will be worth nothing : and the object is 
to find auditors for the one and customers for 
the other, neither of which is difficult ; since 
people who have no ideas of their own are glad 
to hear what any one else has to sa} r , as those 
who have not free admissions to the play will 
very obligingly take up with an occasional order. 
— It sometimes gives one a melancholy but 
mixed sensation to see one of the better sort 
of this class of politicians, not without talents or 
learning, absorbed for fifty years together in the 
all-engrossing topic of the day : mounting on it 
for exercise and recreation of his faculties, like 
the great horse at a riding-school, and after his 
short, improgressive, untired career, dismounting 
just where he got up ; flying abroad in continual 
consternation on the wings of all the ne ws- 
papers; waving his arm like a pump handle in 
sign of constant change, and spouting out tor- 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 5 

rents of puddled politics from his mouth ; dead 
to all interests but those of the state ; seemingly 
neither older nor wiser for age ; unaccountably 
enthusiastic, stupidly romantic, and actuated 
by no other motive than the mechanical opera- 
tions of the spirit of newsmongering ! * 



*It is not very long ago that I saw two Dissenting 
Ministers (the Ultima Thule of the sanguine, visionary 
temperament in politics) stuffing their pipes with dried 
currant-leaves, calling it Radical Tobacco, lighting it 
with a lens in the rays of the sun, and at every puff 
fancying that they undermined the Boroughmongers, as 
Trim blew up the army opposed to the Allies ! They 
had deceived the Senate, Methinks I see them now, 
smiling as in scorn of Corruption. 

" Dream on, blest pair ; 

Yet happier if you knew your happiness, 
And knew to know no more ! " 

The world of Reform that you dote on, like Berkeley's 
material world, lives only in your own brain, and long 
may it live there ! Those same Dissenting Ministers 
throughout the country (I mean the descendants of the 
old Puritans) are to this hour a sort of Fifth-monarchy 
men : very turbulent fellows, in my opinion altogether 
incorrigible, and according to the suggestions of others, 
should be hanged out of the way without judge or jury 
for the safety of church and state. Marry, hang them ! 
they may be left to die a natural death: the race is 
nearly extinct of itself, and can do little more good or 
harm ! 



6 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



" What things/' exclaims Beaumont in his 
verses to Ben J onson, " have we not seen done 
at the Mermaid ! " 

Then when there hath been thrown 

Wit able enough to justify the town 

For three days past, wit that might warrant be 

For the whole city to talk foolishly ! 

I cannot say the same of the Southampton coffee- 
house, though it stands on classic ground, and is 
connected by local tradition with the great names 
of the Elizabethan age. What a falling off is 
here ! Our ancestors of that period seem not 
only to be older by two hundred years, and 
proportionably wiser and wittier than we, but 
hardly a trace of them is left, not even the 
memory of what has been. How should I make 
my friend Mounsey stare, if I were to mention 
the name of my still better friend, old honest 
Signor Friscobaldo, the father of Bellafront : — 
yet his name was perhaps invented, and the 
scenes in which he figures unrivalled might for 
the first time have been read aloud to thrilling 
ears on this very spot ! Who reads Deckar 
now? Or if by chance any one awakes the 
strings of that ancient lyre, and starts with 
delight as they yield wild, broken music, is he 
not accused of envy to the living Muse ? 
What would a linen-draper from Holborn think, 
if I were to ask him after the clerk of St 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 7 



Andrew's, the immortal, the forgotten Webster ? 
His name and his works are no more heard 
of : though these were written with a pen of 
adamant, u within the red-leaved tables of the 
heart," his fame was " writ in water." So 
perishable is genius, so swift is time, so fluctu- 
ating is knowledge, and so far is it from being 
true that men perpetually accumulate the means 
of improvement and refinement. On the con- 
trary, living knowledge is the tomb of the dead, 
and while light and worthless materials float on 
the surface, the solid and sterling as often sink 
to the bottom, and are swallowed up for ever in 
weeds and quicksands! — A striking instance 
of the short-lived nature of popular reputation 
occurred one evening at the Southampton, 
when we got into a dispute, the most learned 
and recondite that ever took place, on the com- 
parative merits of Lord Byron and Gray. A 
country gentleman happened to drop in, and 
thinking to show off in London company, 
launched into a lofty panegyric on the Bard of 
Gray as the sublimest composition in the English 
language. This assertion presently appeared to 
be an anachronism, though it was probably the 
opinion in vogue thirty years ago, when the 
gentleman was last in town. After a little 
floundering, one of the party volunteered to 
express a more contemporary sentiment, by 
asking in a tone of mingled confidence and 



8 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



doubt — " But you don't think, Sir, that Gray is 
to be mentioned as a poet in the same day with 
my Lord Byron ? " The disputants were now 
at issue : all that resulted was that Gray was 
set aside as a poet who would not go down 
among readers of the present day, and his pa- 
tron treated the works of the Noble Bard as 
mere ephemeral effusions, and spoke of poets 
that would be admired thirty years hence, which 
was the farthest stretch of his critical imagina- 
tion. His antagonist's did not even reach so 
far. This was the most romantic digression we 
ever had ; and the subject was not afterwards 
resumed. — No one here (generally speaking) 
has the slightest notion of anything that has 
happened, that has been said, thought, or done 
out of his own recollection. It w r ould be in 
vain to hearken after those " wit-skirmishers," 
those " brave sublunary things," which were 
the employment and delight of the Beaumonts 
and Bens of former times : but we may happily 
repose on dulness, drift with the tide of non- 
sense, and gain an agreeable vertigo by lending 
an ear to endless controversies. The confusion, 
provided you do not mingle in the fray and try 
to disentangle it, is amusing and edifying enough. 
Every species of false wit and spurious argument 
may be learnt here by potent examples. What- 
ever observations you hear dropt, have been 
picked up in the same place or in a kindred at- 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



9 



mosphere. There is a kind of conversation made 
up entirely of scraps and hearsay, as there are a 
kind of books made up entirely of references to 
other books. This may account for the frequent 
contradictions which abound in the discourse 
of persons educated and disciplined wholly in 
coffee-houses. There is nothing stable or well- 
grounded in it : it is " nothing but vanity, 
chaotic vanity." They hear a remark at the 
Globe which they do not know what to make 
of ; another at the Rainbow in direct opposition 
to it ; and not having time to reconcile them, 
vent both at the Mitre. In the course of half 
an hour, if they are not more than ordinarily 
dull, you are sure to find them on opposite sides 
of the question. This is the sickening part of 
it. People do not seem to talk for the sake of 
expressing their opinions, but to maintain an 
opinion for the sake of talking. We meet neither 
with modest ignorance nor studious acquire- 
ment. Their knowledge has been taken in too 
much by snatches to digest properly. There is 
neither sincerity nor system in what they say. 
They hazard the first crude notion that comes 
to hand, and then defend it how they can ; 
which is for the most part but ill. " Don't you 

think," says Mounsey, " that Mr is a very 

sensible, well-informed man ? " — " Why no," I 
say, u he seems to me to have no ideas of his 
own, and only to wait to see what others will 



10 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



say in order to set himself against it. I should 
not think that is the way to get at the truth. 
I do not desire to be driven out of my conclu- 
sions (such as they are) merely to make way for 

his upstart pretensions." — "Then there is : 

what of him ? " — " He might very well express 
all he has to say in half the time, and with half 
the trouble. Why should he beat about the 
bush as he does ? He appears to be getting up 
a little speech, and practising on a smaller scale 
for a Debating Society — the lowest ambition 
a man can have. Besides, by his manner of 
drawling out his words, and interlarding his 
periods with inuendos and formal reservations, 
he is evidently making up his mind all the time 
which side he shall take. He puts his sentences 
together as printers set up types, letter by letter. 
There is certainly no principle of short-hand in 
his mode of elocution. He goes round for a 
meaning, and the sense waits for him. It is not 
conversation, but rehearsing a part. Men of 
education and men of the world order this 
matter better. They know what they have to 
say on a subject, and come to the point at once. 
Your coffee-house politician balances between 
what he heard last and what he shall say next ; 
and not seeing his way clearly, puts you off with 
circumstantial phrases, and tries to gain time 
for fear of making a false step. This gentleman 
has heard some one admired for precision and 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 11 



copiousness of language ; and goes away, con- 
gratulating himself that he has not made a 
blunder in grammar or in rhetoric the whole 
evening. He is a theoretical Quidnunc — is tena- 
cious in argument, though weary ; carries his 
point thus and thus, bandies objections and 
answers with uneasy pleasantry, and when he has 
the worst of the dispute, puns very emphati- 
cally on his adversary's name, if it admits of 
that kind of misconstruction. " George Kirk- 
patrick is admired by the waiter, who is a sleek 
hand,* for his temper in managing an argument. 
Any one else would perceive that the latent 
cause is not patience with his antagonist, but 
satisfaction with himself. I think this unmoved 
self-complacency, this cavalier, smooth, simper- 
ing indifference, is more annoying than the 
extremest violence or irritability. The one 
shows that your opponent does care something 
about you, and may be put out of his way by 
your remarks ; the other seems to announce 
that nothing you say can shake his opinion a 
jot, that he has considered the whole of what 



* William, our waiter, is dressed neatly in black, takes 
in the * Tickler' (which many of the gentlemen like to 
look into), wears, I am told, a diamond pin in his shirt- 
front, has a music-master to teach him to play on the 
flageolet two hours before the maids are up, complains 
of confinement and a delicate constitution, and is a 
complete Master Stephen in his way. 



12 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

you have to offer beforehand, and that he is in 
all respects much wiser and more acomplished 
than you. Such persons talk to grown people 
with the same air of patronage and condescen- 
sion that they do to children. " They will 
explain " — is a familiar expression with them, 
thinking you can only differ from them in con- 
sequence of misconceiving what they say. Or 
if you detect them in any error in point of fact 
(as to acknowledged deficiency in wit or argu- 
ment, they would smile at the idea), they add 
some correction to your correction, and thus 
have the whip-hand of you again, being more 
correct than you who corrected them. If you 
hint some obvious oversight, they know what 
you are going to say, and were aware of the 
objection before you uttered it: — u So shall their 
anticipation prevent your discovery." By being 
in the right you gain no advantage : by being 
in the wrong you are entitled to the benefit of 
their pity or scorn ! It is sometimes curious to 
see a select group of our little Gotham getting 
about a knotty point that will bear a wager, 
as whether Dr Johnson's Dictionary was 
originally published in quarto or folio. The 
confident assertions, the cautious overtures, the 
length of time demanded to ascertain the fact, 
the precise terms of the forfeit, the provisos for 
getting out of paying it at last, lead to a long 
and inextricable discussion. George was how- 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 13 



ever so convinced in his own mind that the 
' Mourning Bride' was written by Shakspeare, 
that he ran headlong into the snare : the bet 
was decided, and the punch was drank. He has 
skill in numbers, and seldom exceeds his seven- 
pence. — He had a brother once, no Michael 
Cassio, no great arithmetician : Roger was a 
rare fellow, of the driest humour, and the nicest 
tact, of infinite sleights and evasions, of a picked 
phraseology, and the very soul of mimicry. I 
fancy I have some insight into physiognomy 
myself, but he could often expound to me at 
a single glance the characters of those of my 
acquaintance that I had been most at fault about. 
The account as it w r as cast up and balanced 
between us was not always very favourable. 
How finely, how truly, how gaily he took off 
the company at the Southampton ! Poor and 
faint are my sketches compared to his ! It was 
like looking into a camera obscura — you saw 
faces shining and speaking — the smoke curled, 
the lights dazzled, the oak wainscoting took a 

higher polish ; there was old S , tall and 

gaunt, with his couplet from Pope and case at 
Nisi Prius, Mudford eyeing the ventilator and 

lying perdu for a moral, and H and A 

taking another friendly finishing glass ! — These 
and many more wind-falls of character he gave 
us in thought, word, and action. I remember 
his once describing three different persons 



14 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



together to myself and Martin Burney, viz., the 
manager of a country theatre, a tragic and a 
comic performer, till we were ready to tumble 
on the floor with laughing at the oddity of 
their humours, and at Roger's extraordinary 
powers of ventriloquism, bodily and mental ; 
and Burney said (such was the vividness of the 
scene) that when he awoke the next morning, 
he wondered what three amusing characters he 
had been in company with the evening before. 
Oh! it was a rich treat to see him describe 
Mudford,him of the Courier, the Contemplative 
Man, who wrote an answer to Coelebs, coming 
into a room, folding up his great coat, taking 
out a little pocket volume, laying it down to 
think, rubbing the calf of his leg with grave self- 
complacency, and starting out of his reverie 
when spoken to with an inimitable vapid excla- 
mation of " Eh ! " Mudford is like a man made 
of fleecy hosiery : Roger was lank and lean 
" as is the ribbed sea-sand." Yet he seemed 
the very man he represented, as fat, pert, and 
dull as it was possible to be. I have not seen 
him of late : — 

" For Kais is fled, and our tents are forlorn." 

But I thought of him the other day when the 
news of the death of Buonaparte came, whom 
we both loved for precisely contrary reasons, 
he for putting down the rabble of the people 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 15 



and I because lie had put down the rabble of 
kings. Perhaps this event may rouse him from 
his lurking-place, where he lies like reynard, 
with head declined, in feigned slumbers ! " * — 

* His account of Dr Whittle was prodigious — of his 
occult sagacity, of his eyes prominent and wild like a 
hare's, fugacious of followers, of the arts by which he had 
left the City to lure the patients that he wanted after him 
to the West-end, of the ounce of tea that he purchased by 
stratagem as an unusual treat to his guest, and of the nar- 
row winding staircase, from the height of which he con- 
templated in security the imaginary approach of duns. 
He was a large, plain, fair-faced Moravian preacher, turned 
physician. He was an honest man, but vain of he knew 
not what. He was once sitting where Sarratt was play- 
ing a game at chess without seeing the board ; and after 
remaining for some time absorbed in silent wonder, he 
turned suddenly to me and said, " Do you know, Mr 
Hazlitt, that I think there is something I could do ? " 
" Well, what is that ? " " Why perhaps you would not 
guess, but I think I could dance, I'm sure I could ; ay, 
I could dance like Vestris ! "— Sarratt, who was a man 
of various accomplishments (among others one of the 
Fancy), afterwards bared his arm to convince us of his 
muscular strength, and Mrs Whittle going out of the 
room with another lady, said, " Do you know, Madam, 
the Doctor is a great jumper ! " Moliere could not 
outdo this. Never shall I forget his pulling off his coat 
to eat beaf- stakes on equal terms with Martin Burney. 
Life is short, but full of mirth and pastime, did we not so 
soon forget what we have laughed at, perhaps that we 
may not remember what we have cried at ! — Sarratt 
the chess-player was an extraordinary man. He had 
the same tenacious, epileptic faculty in other things that 



16 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



I had almost forgotten the Southampton 

Tavern. We for some time took C for a 

lawyer, from a certain arguteness of voice and 
slenderness of neck, and from his having a 
quibble and a laugh at himself always ready. 
On inquiry, however, he was found to be a 
patent-medicine seller, and having leisure in 
his apprenticeship, and a forwardness of parts, 
he had taken to study Blackstone and the Sta- 
tutes at Large. On appealing to Mounsey for 
his opinion on this matter, he observed pithily, 
u I don't like so much law : the gentlemen here 
seem fond of law, but I have law enough at 
chambers." One sees a great deal of the hu- 
mours and tempers of men in a place of this 
sprt, and may almost gather their opinions from 

their characters. There is E , a fellow 

that is always in the wrong — who puts might 
for right on all occasions — a Tory in grain — 

he had at chess, and could no more get any other ideas 
out of his mind than he could those of the figures on the 
board. He was a great reader, but had not the least 
taste. Indeed the violence of his memory tyrannised 
over and destroyed all power of selection. He could 
repeat Ossian by heart, without knowing the best pas- 
sage from the worst ; and did not perceive he was tiring 
you to death by giving you an account of the breed, 
education, and manners of fighting-dogs for hours to- 
gether. The sense of reality quite superseded the dis- 
tinction between the pleasurable and the painful. He 
was altogether a mechanical philosopher. 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 17 

who has no one idea but what has been instilled 
into him by custom and authority — an everlast- 
ing babbler on the stronger side of the question 
— querulous and dictatorial, and with a peevish 
whine in his voice like a beaten schoolboy. He 
is a great advocate for the Bourbons, and for 
the National Debt. The former he affirms to 
be the choice of the French people, and the 
latter he insists is necessary to the salvation of 
these kingdoms. This last point a little inoffen- 
sive gentleman among us, of a saturnine aspect 
but simple conceptions, cannot comprehend. 
" I will tell you, sir, I will make my proposi- 
tion so clear, that you will be convinced of the 
truth of my observation in a moment. Con- 
sider, sir, the number of trades that would be 
thrown out of employ, if it were done away 
with: what would become of the procelain 
manufacture without it ? " Any stranger to 
overhear one of these debates would swear that 
the English as a nation are bad logicians. Mood 
and figure are unknown to them. They do not 
argue by the book. They arrive at conclusions 
through the force of prejudice, and on the prin- 
ciples of contradiction. Mr E having 

thus triumphed in argument, offers a flower to 
the notice of the company as a specimen of his 
flower-garden, a curious exotic, nothing like it 
to be found in this kingdom, talks of his carna- 
tions, of his country house, and old English 

c 



18 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



hospitality, but never invites any of his friends 
to come down and take their Sunday's dinner 
with him. He is mean and ostentatious at the 
same time, insolent and servile, does not know 
whether to treat those he converses with as if 
they were his porters or his customers : the 
prentice-boy is not yet wiped out of him, and 
his imagination still hovers between his man- 
sion at , and the workhouse. Opposed to 

him and to every one else, is K , a radical 

reformer and logician, who makes clear work 
of the taxes and national debt, reconstructs the 
Government from the first principles of things, 
shatters the Holy Alliance at a blow, grinds out 
the future prospects of society with a machine, 
and is setting out afresh with the commence- 
ment of the French Revolution five-and-twenty 
years ago, as if on an untried experiment. He 
minds nothing but the formal agreement of his 
premises and his conclusions, and does not stick 
at obstacles in the way nor consequences in 
the end. If there was but one side of a ques- 
tion, he would always be in the right. He casts 
up one column of the account to admiration, 
but totally forgets and rejects the other. His 
ideas lie like square pieces of wood in his brain, 
and may be said to be piled up on a still' archi- 
tectural principle, perpendicularly, and at right 
angles. There is no inflection, no modification, 
no graceful embellishment, no Corinthian capi- 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



19 



tals. I never heard him agree to two proposi- 
tions together, or to more than half a one at a 
time. His rigid love of truth bends to nothing 
but his habitual love of disputation. He puts 
one in mind of one of those long-headed poli- 
ticians and frequenters of coffee-houses men- 
tioned in Berkeley's Minute Philosopher, who 
would make nothing of such old-fashioned fel- 
lows as Plato and Aristotle. He has the new- 
light strong upon him, and he knocks other 
people down with its solid beams. He denies 
that he has got certain views out of Cobbett, 
though he allows that there are excellent ideas 
occasionally to be met with in that writer. It 
is a pity that this enthusiastic and unqualified 
regard to truth should be accompanied with an 
equal exactness of expenditure and unrelenting 
eye to the main-chance. He brings a bunch of 
radishes with him for cheapness, and gives a 
band of musicians at the door a penny, observ- 
ing that he likes their performance better than 
all the Opera-squalling. This brings the seve- 
rity of his political principles into question, if 
not into contempt. He would abolish the Na- 
tional Debt from motives of personal economy, 
and objects to Mr Canning's pension because it 
perhaps takes a farthing a year out of his own 
pocket. A great deal of radical reasoning has 
its source in this feeling. — He bestows no small 
quantity of his tediousness upon Mounsey, on 



20 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



whose mind all these formulas and diagrams 
fall like seed on stony ground : " while the 
manna is descending/' he shakes his ears, and 
in the intervals of the debate, insinuates an ob- 
jection, and calls for another half-pint. I have 
sometimes said to him — " Any one to come in 
here without knowing you, would take you for 
the most disputatious man alive, for you are 
always engaged in an argument with somebody 
or other." The truth is, that Mounsey is a 
good-natured, gentlemanly man, who notwith- 
standing, if appealed to, will not let an absurd 
or unjust proposition pass without expressing 
his dissent ; and therefore he is a sort of mark 
for all those (and we have several of that stamp) 
who like to tease other people's understandings, 
as wool-combers tease wool. He is certainly 
the flower of the flock. He is the oldest fre- 
quenter of the place, the latest sitter-up, well- 
informed, inobtrusive, and that sturdy old 
English character, a lover of truth and justice. 
I never knew Mounsey approve of anything 
unfair or illiberal. There is a candour and 
uprightness about his mind which can neither be 
wheedled nor brow-beat into unjustifiable com- 
plaisance. He looks straight-forward as he sits 
with his glass in his hand, turning neither to the 
right nor the left, and I will venture to say thai 
he has never had a sinister objectin view through 
life. Mrs Battle (it is recorded in her Opinions 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



21 



on Whist) could not make up her mind to use 
the word 66 Go" Mounsey from long practice 
has got over this difficulty, and uses it inces- 
santly. It is no matter what adjunct follows in 
the train of this despised monosyllable : — what- 
ever liquid comes after this prefix is welcome. 
Mounsey, without being the most communicative, 
is the most conversible man I know. The 
social principle is inseparable from his person. 
If he has nothing to say, he drinks your health ; 
and when you cannot from the rapidity and 
carelessness of his utterance catch what he says, 
you assent to it with equal confidence: you 
know his meaning is good. His favourite phrase 
is, u We have all of us something of the cox- 
comb and yet he has none of it himself. 
Before I had exchanged half a dozen sentences 
with Mounsey, I found that he knew several of 
my old acquaintance (an immediate introduction 
of itself, for the discussing the characters and 
foibles of common friends is a great sweetener 
and cement of friendship) — and had been intimate 
with most of the wits and men about town for 
the last twenty years. He knew Tobin, Words- 
worth, Porson, Wilson, Paley, Erskine, and 
many others. He speaks of Paley 's pleasantry 
and unassuming manners, and describes Porson's 
long potations and long quotations formerly at 
the Cider- Cellar in a very lively way. He has 
doubts, however, as to that sort of learning. 



22 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

On my saying that I had never seen the Greek 
Professor but once, at the Library of the London 
Institution, when he was dressed in an old rusty 
black coat, with cobwebs hanging to the skirts 
of it, and with a large patch of coarse brown 
paper covering the whole length of his nose, 
looking for all the world like a drunken car- 
penter, and talking to one of the Proprietors 
with an air of suavity, approaching to conde- 
scension, Mounsey could not help expressing some 
little uneasiness for the credit of classical litera- 
ture. " I submit, sir, whether common sense 
is not the principal thing? What is the ad- 
vantage of genius and learning if they are of 
no use in the conduct of life ? " — Mounsey is one 
who loves the hours that usher in the morn, 
when a select few are left in twos and threes 
like stars before the break of day, and when the 
discourse and the ale are "aye growing better 
and better." Wells, Mounsey, and myself were 
all that remained one evening. We had sat 
together several hours without being tired of 
one another's company. The conversation 
turned on the Beauties of Charles the Second's 
Court at Windsor, and from thence to Count 
Grammont, their gallant and gay historian. We 
took our favourite passages in turn — one pre- 
ferring that of Killigrew's country cousin, who 
having been resolutely refused by Miss War- 
minster (one of the Maids of Honour), when he 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



23 



found she had been unexpectedly brought to 
bed, fell on his knees and thanked God that 
now she might take compassion on him — an- 
other insisting that the Chevalier Hamilton's 
assignation with Lady Chesterfield, when she 
kept him all night shivering in an old out-house, 
was better. J acob Hall's prowess was not for- 
gotten, nor the story of Miss Stuart's garters. 
I was getting on in my way with that delicate 
endroit, in which Miss Churchill is first intro- 
duced at court and is besieged (as a matter of 
course) by the Duke of York, who was gallant 
as well as bigoted on system. His assiduities 
however soon slackened, owing (it is said) to 
her having a pale, thin face ; till one day, as 
they were riding out hunting together, she 
fell from her horse, and was taken up almost 
lifeless. The whole assembled court were 
thrown by this event into admiration that such 
a body should belong to such a face* (so 
transcendant a pattern was she of the female 
form), and the Duke was fixed. This I con- 
tended was striking, affecting, and grand, the 
sublime of amorous biography, and said I could 
conceive of nothing finer than the idea of a 
young person in his situation, who was the 



* " lis ne pouvoient croire qu'un corps decette beauts fut 
de quelque chose au visage de Mademoiselle Churchill." 
— Memoires de Grammont, Vol. II, p. 254. 



24 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

object of indifference or scorn from outward 
appearance, with the proud suppressed con- 
sciousness of a Goddess-like symmetry, locked 
up by " fear and niceness, the hand-maids of all 
women/' from the wonder and worship of man- 
kind. I said so then, and I think so now : rny 
tongue grew wanton in the praise of this pas- 
sage, and I believe it bore the bell from its com- 
petitors. Wells then spoke of Lucius Apuleius 
and his Golden Ass, which contains the story 
of Cupid and Psyche, with other matter rich 
and rare, and went on to the romance of Helio- 
dorus, Theagenes and Chariclea. This > as he 
affirmed, opens with a pastoral landscape equal 
to Claude, and in the presiding deities of 
Love and Wine appear in all their pristine 
strength, youth, and grace, crowded and wor- 
shipped as of yore. The night waned, but our 
glasses brightened, enriched with the pearls of 
Grecian story. Our cup-bearer slept in a corner 
of the room, like another Endymion, in the pale 
ray of an half-extinguished lamp, and starting 
up at a fresh summons for a farther supply, he 
swore it w r as too late, and was inexorable to 
entreaty. Mounsey sat with his hat on and with 
a hectic flush in his face while any hope re- 
mained, but as soon as we rose to go, he darted 
out of the room as quick as lightning, deter- 
mined not to be the last that went. — I said 
some time after to the waiter, that " Mr Mounsey 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE TOL1TICIANS. 25 

was no flincher." — " Oh ! sir/' says he, " you 
' should have known him formerly, when Mr 

H and Mr A used to be here. Now 

he is quite another man : he seldom stays later 
than one or two/' — " Why, did they keep it 
up much later then ? " — " Oh ! yes ; and used 
to sing catches and all sorts." — " What, did Mr 
Mounsey sing catches ? " — " He joined chorus, 
sir, and was as merry as the best of them. He 

was always a pleasant gentleman ! " — This H 

and A succumbed in the fight. A 

was a dry Scotchman, H a good-natured, 

hearty Englishman. I do not mean that the 
same character applies to all Scotchmen or to 

all Englishmen. H was of the Pipe-Office 

(not unfitly appointed), and in his cheerfuller 
cups would delight to speak of a widow and a 
bowling-green, that ran in his head to the last. 
u What is the good of talking of those things 
now ? " said the man of utility. " I don't 
know/' replied the other, quaffing another 
glass of sparkling ale, and with a lambent fire 
playing in his eye and round his bald forehead 
— (he had a head that Sir Joshua would have 
made something bland and genial of) — " I don't 
know, but they were delightful to me at the 
time, and are still pleasant to talk and think of." 
Such a one, in Touchstone's phrase, is a natural 
philosopher ; and in nine cases out of ten that 
sort of philosophy is the best ! I could enlarge 



26 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

this sketch, such as it is ; but to prose on to the 
end of the chapter might prove less profitable 
than tedious. 

I like very well to sit in a room where there 
are people talking on subjects I know nothing 
of, if I am only allowed to sit silent and as a 
spectator. But I do not much like to join in 
the conversation, except with people and on 
subjects to my taste. Sympathy is necessary 
to society. To look on a variety of faces, 
humours, and opinions is sufficient : to mix with 
others, agreement as well as variety is indis- 
pensable. What makes good society ? I answer, 
in one word, real fellowship. Without a simili- 
tude of tastes, acquirements, and pursuits (what- 
ever may be the difference of tempers and 
characters), there can be no intimacy or even 
casual intercourse, worth the having. What 
makes the most agreeable party? A number 
of people with a number of ideas in common, 
" yet so as with a difference that is, who can 
put one or more subjects which they have all 
studied in the greatest variety of entertaining 
or useful lights. Or in other words, a succes- 
sion of good things said with good humour, 
and addressed to the understandings of those 
who hear them, make the most desirable con- 
versation. Ladies, lovers, beaux, wits, philo- 
sophers, the fashionable or the vulgar, are the 
fittest company for one another. The discourse 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 27 

sit Randall's is the best for boxers : that at 
Long's for lords and loungers. I prefer Hunt's 
conversation almost to any other person's, be- 
cause, with a familiar range of subjects, he 
colours with a totally new and sparkling light, 
reflected from his own character. Elia, the 
grave and witty, says things not to be surpassed 
in essence : but the manner is more painful and 
less a relief to my own thoughts. Some one 
conceived he could not be an excellent com- 
panion, because he was seen walking down the 
side of the Thames, passibus iniquis, after dining 
at Richmond. The objection was not valid. I 
will, however, admit that the said Elia is the 
worst company in the world in bad company, 
if it be granted me that in good company he is 
nearly the best that can be. He is one of those 
of whom it may be said, Tell me your company, 
and Til tell you your manners. He is the crea- 
ture of sympathy, and makes good whatever 
opinion you seem to entertain of him. He can- 
not outgo the apprehensons of the circle ; and 
invariably acts up or down to the point of re- 
finement or vulgarity at which they pitch him. 
He appears to take a pleasure in exaggerating 
the prejudices of strangers against him ; a pride 
in confirming the prepossessions of friends. In 
whatever scale of intellect he is placed, he is as 
lively or as stupid as the rest can be for their 
lives. If you think him odd and ridiculous, 



28 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



he becomes more and more so every minute, a 
la folie, till he is a wonder gazed at by all — set 
him against a good wit and a ready apprehen- 
sion, and he brightens more and more — 

" Or like a gate of steel 
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back 
Its figure and its heat." 

We had a pleasant party one evening at Barry 
Cornwall's. A young literary bookseller who 
was present went away delighted with the ele- 
gance of the repast, and spoke in raptures of a 
servant in green livery and a patent lamp. I 
thought myself that the charm of the evening 
consisted in some talk about Beaumont and 
Fletcher and the old poets, in which every one 
took part or interest, and in a consciousness that 
we could not pay our host a better compliment 
than in thus alluding to studies in which he 
excelled, and in praising authors whom he had 
imitated with feeling and sweetness ! — I should 
think it may be also laid down as a rule on this 
subject, that to constitute good company a certain 
proportion of hearers and speakers is requisite. 
Coleridge makes good company for this reason. 
He immediately establishes the principle of the 
division of labour in this respect, wherever he 
comes. He takes his cue as speaker, and the rest 
of the party theirs as listeners — a " Circean herd " 
■ — without any previous arrangement having 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 29 



been gone through. I will just add that there 
can be no good society without perfect freedom 
from affectation and constraint. If the unre- 
served communication of feeling or opinion 
leads to offensive familiarity, it is not well. But 
it is no better where the absence of offensive 
remarks arises only from formality and an as- 
sumed respectfulness of manner. 

I do not think there is anything deserving the 
name of society to be found out of London : 
and that for the two following reasons. First, 
there is neighbourhood elsewhere, accidental or 
unavoidable acquaintance : people are thrown 
together by chance or grow together like trees ; 
but you can pick your society nowhere but in 
London. The very persons that of all others 
you would wish to associate with in almost every 
line of life (or at least of intellectual pursuit), 
are to be met with there. It is hard if out of 
a million of people you cannot find half a dozen 
to your liking. Individuals may seem lost and 
hid in the size of the place : but in fact from 
this very circumstance you are within two or 
three miles' reach of persons that without it you 
would be some hundreds apart from. Secondly, 
London is the only place in which each indi- 
vidual in company is treated according to his 
value in company, and to that only. In every 
part of the kingdom he carries another charac- 
ter about with him, which supersedes the intel- 



30 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 



lectual or social one. It is known in Manches- 
ter or Liverpool what every man in the room is 
worth in land or money ; what are his con- 
nexions and prospects in life — and this gives a 
character of servility or arrogance, of mercena- 
riness or impertinence to the whole of provincial 
intercourse. You laugh not in proportion to a 
man's wit, but his wealth : you have to consider 
not what, but whom you contradict. You 
speak by the pound, and are heard by the rood. 
In the metropolis there is neither time nor incli- 
nation for these remote calculations. Every 
man depends on the quantity of sense, wit, or 
good manners he brings into society for the re- 
ception he meets with in it. A member of 
parliament soon finds his level as a commoner : 
the merchant and manufacturer cannot bring his 
goods to market here : the great landed pro- 
prietor shrinks from being the lord of acres 
into a pleasant companion or a dull fellow. 
When a visitor enters or leaves a room, it is not 
inquired whether he is rich or poor, whether he 
lives in a garret or a palace, or comes in his 
own or a hackney-coach, but whether he lias a 
good expression of countenance, with an un- 
affected manner, and whether he is a man of 
understanding or a blockhead. These are the 
circumstances by which you make a favourable 
impression on the company, and by which they 
estimate you in the abstract. In the country, 



ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 31 



they consider whether you have a vote at the 
next election, or a place in your gift; and 
measure the capacity of others to instruct or 
entertain them by the strength of their pockets 
and their credit with their banker. Personal 
merit is at a prodigious discount in the pro- 
vinces. I like the country very well, if I want to 
enjoy my own company : but London is the only 
place for equal society, or where a man can say 
a good thing or express an honest opinion with- 
out subjecting himself to being insulted, unless 
he first lays his purse on the table to back his 
pretensions to talent or independence of spirit. 
I speak from experience. * 



* When I was young, I spent a good deal of my time at 
Manchester and Liverpool ; and I confess I give the pre- 
ference to the former. There you were oppressed only 
by the aristocracy of wealth ; in the latter by the aris- 
tocracy of wealth and letters by turns. You could not 
help feeling that some of their great men were authors 
among merchants and merchants among authors. Their 
bread was buttered on both sides, and they had you at a 
disadvantage either way. The Manchester cotton - 
spinners, on the contrary, set up no pretensions beyond 
their looms, were hearty good fellows, and took any in- 
formation or display of ingenuity on other subjects in 
good part. I remember well being introduced to a dis- 
tinguished patron of art and rising merit at a little 
distance from Liverpool, and was received with every 
mark of attention and politeness, till the conversation 
turning on Italian literature, our host remarked that 



32 ON COFFEE-HOUSE POLITICIANS. 

there was nothing in the English language correspond- 
ing to the severity of the Italian ode— except perhaps 
Dryden's Alexander's Feast, and Pope's St Cecilia ! I 
could no longer contain my desire to display my smat- 
tering in criticism, and began to maintain that Pope's 
Ode was, as it appeared to me, far from an example of 
severity in writing. I soon perceived what I had done, 
but here am I writing Table-talks in cod sequence. Alas ! 
I knew as little of the world then as I do now. I 
never could understand anything beyond an abstract 
definition. 



ESSAY II. 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 

" Ha ! here's three of us are sophisticated : — off, you 
lendings." 



There is such a thing as an aristocracy or 
privileged order in letters, which has sometimes 
excited my wonder, and sometimes my spleen. 
We meet with authors who have never done 
anything, but who have a vast reputation for 
what they could have done. Their names stand 
high, and are in everybody's mouth, but their 
works are never heard of, or had better remain 
undiscovered for the sake of their admirers.— 
Stat no minis umbra — their pretensions are lofty 
and unlimited, as they have nothing to rest upon, 
or because it is impossible to confront them 
with the proofs of their deficiency. If you 
inquire farther, and insist upon some act of 
authorship to establish the claims of these Epi- 
curean votaries of the Muses, you find that 
they had a great reputation at Cambridge, that 
they were senior wranglers or successful prize- 

D 



34 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



essayists, that they visit at Holland House, and 
to support that honour, must be supposed of 
course to occupy the first rank in the world of 
letters.* It is possible, however, that they have 
some manuscript work in hand, which is of 
too much importance (and the writer has too 
much at stake in publishing it) hastily to see 
the light : or perhaps they once had an article 
in the 6 Edinburgh Review,' which was much 
admired at the time, and is kept by them ever 
since as a kind of diploma and unquestionable 
testimonial of merit. They are not like Grub- 
street authors, who write for bread, and are 
paid by the sheet. Like misers who hoard their 
wealth, they are supposed to be masters of all 
the wit and sense they do not impart to the 
public. " Continents have most of what they 
contain," says a considerable philosopher ; and 

* Lord Holland had made a diary (in the manner of 
Boswell) of the conversation held at his house, and read 
it at the end of a week pro bono publico. Sir James 
Mackintosh made a considerable figure in it, and a 
celebrated lyric poet none at all, merely answering Yes 
and No. With this result he was by no means satisfied, 
and talked incessantly from that day forward. At the 
end of the week he asked, with some anxiety and 
triumph, if his Lordship had continued his diary, ex- 
pecting himself to shine in " the first row of the rubric." 
To which his Noble Patron answered in the negative, 
with an intimation that it had not appeared to him 
worth while. Our poet was thus thrown again into the 
background, and Sir James remained master of the 
field ! 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



these persons, it must be confessed, have a pro- 
digious command over themselves in the ex- 
penditure of light and learning. The Oriental 
curse — " O that my enemy had written a book " 
— hangs suspended over them. By never com- 
mitting themselves, they neither give a handle 
to the malice of the world, nor excite the 
jealousy of friends; and keep all the reputation 
they have got, not by discreetly blotting, but 
by never writing a line. Some one told Sheri- 
dan, who was always busy about some new 
work and never advancing any farther in it, 
that he would not write because he was afraid 
of the author of the 6 School for Scandal.' So 
these idle pretenders are afraid of undergoing a 
comparison with themselves in something they 
have never done, but have had credit for doing. 
They do not acquire celebrity, they assume it ; 
and escape detection by never venturing out of 
their imposing and mysterious incognito. They 
do not let themselves down by every-day work : 
for them to appear in print is a work of supere- 
rogation as much as in lords and kings, and like 
gentlemen with a large landed estate, they live 
on their established character, and do nothing 
(or as little as possible) to increase or lose it. 
There is not a more deliberate piece of grave 
imposture going. I know a person of this 
description who has been employed many }^ears 
(by implication) on a translation of Thucydides, 



36 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



of which no one ever saw a word, but it does 
not answer the purpose of bolstering up a facti- 
tious reputation the less on that account. The 
longer it is delayed and kept sacred from the 
vulgar gaze, the more it swells into imaginary 
consequence; the labour and care required for 
a work of this kind being immense : — and then 
there are no faults in an unexecuted translation. 
The only impeccable writers are those who never 
wrote. Another is an oracle on subjects of taste 
and classical erudition, because (he says at least) 
he reads Cicero once a year to keep up the 
purity of his Latinity. A third makes the in- 
decency pass for the depth of his researches 
and for a high gusto in virtu, till from his see- 
ing nothing in the finest remains of ancient art, 
the world by the merest accident find out that 
there is nothing in him. There is scarcely 
anything that a grave face with an impenetra- 
ble manner will not accomplish, and whoever is 
weak enough to impose upon himself, will have 
wit enough to impose upon the public — particu- 
larly if he can make it their interest to be 
deceived by shallow boasting, and contrives not 
to hurt their self-love by sterling acquirements. 
Do you suppose that the understood translation 
of Thucydides cost its supposed author nothing ! 
A select party of friends and admirers dine with 
him once a week at a magnificent town-mansion, 
or a more elegant and picturesque retreat in the 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 37 



country. They broach their Horace and their 
old hock, and sometimes allude with a consider- 
able degree of candour to the defects of works 
which are brought out by contemporary writers 
— the ephemeral offspring of haste and ne- 
cessity ! 

Among other things, the learned languages 
are a ready passport to this sort of unmeaning, 
unanalysed reputation. They presently lift a 
man up among the celestial constellations, the 
signs of the Zodiac (as it were) and third heaven 
of inspiration, from whence he looks down on 
those who are toiling on in this lower sphere, 
and earning their bread by the sweat of their 
brain, at leisure and in scorn. If the graduates 
in this way condescend to express their thoughts 
in English, it is understood to be infra dignita- 
tem — such light and unaccustomed essays do 
not fit the ponderous gravity of their pen — they 
only draw to advantage and with full justice to 
themselves in the bow of the ancients. Their 
native-tongue is to them strange, inelegant, un- 
apt, and crude. They " cannot command it to 
any utterance of harmony. They have not the 
skill." This is true enough; but you must not 
say so, under a heavy penalty — the displeasure 
of pedants and blockheads. It would be sacri- 
lege against the privileged classes, the Aristo- 
cracy of Letters. What ! will you affirm that 
a profound Latin scholar, a perfect Grecian, 



38 ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 

cannot write a page of common sense or gram- 
mar ? Is it not to be presumed, by all the 
charters of the Universities and the foundations 
of grammar-schools, that he who can speak a 
dead language must be a fortiori conversant 
with his own ? Surely, the greater implies the 
less. He who knows every science and every 
art cannot be ignorant of the most familiar forms 
of speech. Or if this plea is found not to hold 
water, then our scholastic bungler is said to be 
above this vulgar trial of skill, " something 
must be excused to want of practice — but did 
you not observe the elegance of the Latinity, 
how well that period would become a classical 
and studied dress ? " Thus defects are " mon- 
ster'd " into excellencies, and they screen their 
idol, and require you, at your peril, to pay 
prescriptive homage to false concords and in- 
consequential criticisms, because the writer of 
them has the character of the first or second 
Greek or Latin scholar in the kingdom. If 
you do not swear to the truth of these spurious 
credentials, you are ignorant and malicious, 
a quack and a scribbler— -flagranti delicto f 
Thus the man who can merely read and con- 
strue some old author, is of a class superior to 
any living one, and, by parity of reasoning, to 
those old authors themselves : the poet or prose 
writer of true and original genius, by the cour- 
tesy of custom, "ducks to the learned fool : " 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 39 

or as the author of Hudibras has so well stated 
the same thing : — 

" He that is but able to express 

No sense at all in several languages, 

Will pass for learneder than he that's known 

To speak the strongest reason in his own." 

These preposterous and unfounded claims of 
mere scholars to precedence in the common- 
wealth of letters, which they set up so formally 
themselves and which others so readily bow 
to, are partly owing to traditional prejudice : — 
there was a time when learning was the only 
distinction from ignorance, and when there was 
no such thing as popular English literature. 
Again, there is something more palpable and 
positive in this kind of acquired knowledge, 
like acquired wealth, which the vulgar easily 
recognise. That others know the meaning of 
signs which they are confessedly and altogether 
ignorant of, is to them both a matter of fact 
and a subject of endless wonder. The languages 
are worn like a dress by a man, and distinguish 
him sooner than his natural figure ; and we 
are, from motives of self-love, inclined to give 
others credit for the ideas they have borrowed 
or have come into direct possession of, rather 
than for those that originally belong to them 
and are exclusively their own. The merit in 
them and the implied inferiority in ourselves is 



40 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



less. Learning is a kind of external appendage 
or transferable property — 

" 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and may be any man's " — 

Genius and understanding are a man's self, an 
integrant part of his personal identity ; and 
the title to these last, as it is the most difficult 
to be ascertained, is also the most grudgingly 
acknowledged. Few persons would pretend to 
deny that Porson had more Greek than they. 
It was a question of fact which might be put to 
the immediate proof, and could not be gainsaid. 
But the meanest frequenter of the Cider-cellar 
or the Hole-in-the-Wall would be inclined, in 
his own conceit, to dispute the palm of wit or 
sense with him ; and indemnify his self-compla- 
cency for the admiration paid to living learn- 
ing by significant hints to friends and casual 
droppers-in, that the greatest men, when you 
came to know them, were not without their 
weak sides as well as others. — Pedants, I will 
add here, talk to the vulgar as pedagogues talk 
to school-boys, on an understood principle of 
condescension and superiority, and therefore 
make little progress in the knowledge of men 
or things. While they fancy they are accom- 
modating themselves to, or else assuming airs 
of importance over, inferior capacities, these 
inferior capacities are really laughing at them. 
There can be no true superiority but what 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 41 

arises out of the pre-supposed ground of equality : 
there can be no improvement but from the free 
communication and comparing of ideas. Kings 
and nobles, for this reason, receive little benefit 
from society — where all is submission on one 
side, and condescension on the other. The 
mind strikes out truth by collision, as steel 
strikes fire from the flint ! 

There are whole families who are born clas- 
sical, and are entered in the heralds' college 
of reputation by the right of consanguinity. 
Literature, like nobility, runs in the blood. 
There is the Burney family. There is no end 
of it or its pretensions. It produces wits, 
scholars, novelists, musicians, artists in " num- 
bers numberless." The name is alone a passport 
to the Temple of Fame. Those who bear it are 
free of Parnassus by birth-right. The founder 
of it was himself an historian and a musician, 
but more of a courtier and man of the world 
than either. The secret of his success may 
perhaps be discovered in the following passage, 
where, in alluding to three eminent performers 
on different instruments, he says, " These three 
illustrious personages were introduced at the 
Emperour's court," &c. ; speaking of them as if 
they were foreign ambassadors or princes of 
the blood, and thus magnifying himself and his 
profession. This overshadowing manner carries 
nearly everything before it, and mystifies a 



42 ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



great many. There is nothing like putting the 
best face upon things, and leaving others to 
find out the difference. He who could call 
three musicians 66 personages," would himself 
play a personage through life, and succeed 
in his leading object. Sir Joshua Reynolds, 
remarking on this passage, said, " No one had 
a greater respect than he had for his profes- 
sion, but that he should never think of applying 
to it epithets that were appropriated merely 
to external rank and distinction." Madame 
D'Arblay, it must be owned, had cleverness 
enough to stock a whole family, and to set up 
her cousin-germans, male and female, for wits 
and virtuosos to the third and fourth generation. 
The rest have done nothing, that I know of, but 
keep up the name. 

The most celebrated author in modern times 
has written without a name, and has been 
baronet ted for anonymous productions. Lord 
Byron complains that Horace Walpole was not 
properly appreciated, " first, because he was a 
gentleman, and secondly, because he was a 
nobleman." His Lordship stands in one, at 
least, of the predicaments here mentioned, and 
yet he has had justice, or somewhat more, done 
him. He towers above his fellows by all the 
height of the peerage. If the poet lends a 
grace to the nobleman, the nobleman pays it 
back to the poet with interest. What a fine 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 43 

addition is ten thousand a year and a title to 
the flaunting pretensions of a modern rhapso- 
dist ! His name so accompanied becomes the 
mouth well : it is repeated thousands of times, 
instead of hundreds, because the reader in being 
familiar with the Poet's works seems to claim 
acquaintance with the Lord. 

" Let but a lord once own the happy lines : 
How the wit brightens, and the style refines ! " 

He smiles at the high-flown praise or petty cavils 
of little men. Does he make a slip in decorum, 
which Milton declares to be the principal thing? 
His proud crest and armorial bearings support 
him : — no bend-sinister slurs his poetical es- 
cutcheon ! Is he dull, or does he put off some 
trashy production on the public? It is not 
charged to his account, as a deficiency which he 
must make good at the peril of his admirers. 
His Lordship is not answerable for the negli- 
gence or extravagances of his Muse. He 
" bears a charmed reputation, which must not 
yield " like one of vulgar birth. The Noble 
Bard is for this reason scarcely vulnerable to 
the critics. The double barrier of his preten- 
sions baffles their puny, timid efforts. Strip off 
some of his tarnished laurels, and the coronet 
appears glittering beneath : restore them, and 
it still shines through with keener lustre. In 
fact, his Lordship's blaze of reputation cul- 



44 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



minates from his rank and place in society. He 
sustains two lofty and imposing characters ; and 
in order to simplify the process of our admira- 
tion, and " leave no rubs or botches in the way," 
we equalise his pretensions, and take it for 
granted that he must be as superior to other 
men in genius as he is in birth. Or, to give a 
more familiar solution of the enigma, the Poet 
and the Peer agree to honour each other's accep- 
tances on the bank of Fame, and sometimes cozen 
the town to some tune between them. — Really, 
however, and with all his privileges, Lord Byron 
might as well not have written that strange 
letter about Pope. I could not afford it, poor 
as I am. Why does he pronounce, ex cathedra 
and robed, that Cowper is no poet ? Cowper 
was a gentleman and of noble family like his 
critic. He was a teacher of morality as well as 
a describer of nature, which is more than his 
Lordship is. His J ohn Gilpin will last as long 
as Beppo, and his verses to Mary are not less 
touching than the farewell. If I had ventured 
upon such an assertion as this, it would have 
been worse for me than finding out a borrowed 
line in the ■ Pleasures of Hope/ 

There is not a more helpless or more despised 
animal than a mere author, without any extrinsic 
advantages of birth, breeding, or fortune to set 
him off. The real ore of talents or learning 
must be stamped before it will pass current. 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 45 



To be at all looked upon as an author, a man 
must be something more or less than an author 
— a rich merchant, a banker, a lord, or a plough- 
man. He is admired for something foreign to 
himself, that acts as a bribe to the servility or a 
set-off to the envy of the community. " What 
should such fellows as we do, crawling betwixt 
heaven and earth — " coining our hearts for 
drachmas ;" now scorched in the sun, now 
shivering in the breeze, now coming out in our 
newest gloss and best attire, like swallows in 
the spring, now " sent back like hollowmas or 
shortest day ?" The best wits, like the hand- 
somest faces upon the town, lead a harassing, 
precarious life — are taken up for the bud and 
promise of talent, which they no sooner fulfil 
than they are thrown aside like an old fashion — 
are caressed without reason, and insulted with 
impunity — are subject to all the caprice, the ma- 
lice, and fulsome advances of that great keeper, 
the Public — and in the end come to no good, 
like all those who lavish their favours on man- 
kind at large and look to the gratitude of the 
world for their reward. Instead of this set of 
Grub-street authors, the mere canaille of letters, 
this corporation of Mendicity, this ragged 
regiment of genius suing at the corners of 
streets in forma pauperis, give me the gentleman 
and scholar, with a good house over his head 
and a handsome table " with wine of Attic taste" 



46 ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



to ask his friends to, and where want and sorrow 
never come. Fill up the sparkling bowl, heap 
high the dessert with roses crowned, bring out 
the hot-pressed poem, the vellum manuscripts, 
the medals, the portfolios, the intaglios — this 
is the true model of the life of a man of taste 
and virtu — the possessors, not the inventors of 
these things, are the true benefactors of man- 
kind and ornaments of letters. Look in, and 
there, amidst silver services and shining chande- 
liers, you will see the man of genius at his 
proper post, picking his teeth and mincing an 
opinion, sheltered by rank bowing to wealth — 
a poet framed, glazed, and hung in a striking 
light : not a straggling weed, torn and trampled 
on ; not a poor Kit-ru?i-the-street, but a powdered 
beau, a sycophant plant, an exotic reared in a 
glass case, hermetically sealed, 

" Free from the Sirian star and the dread thunder- 
stroke" — 

whose mealy coat no moth can corrupt nor 
blight can wither. The poet Keats had not 
this sort of protection for his person — lie lay 
bare to weather — the serpent stung him, and 
the poison-tree dropped upon this little western 
flower : — when the mercenary servile crew ap- 
proached him, he had no pedigree to show them, 
no rent-roll to hold out in reversion for their 
praise: he was not in any great man's train, 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 47 



nor the butt and puppet of a lord — he could 
only offer them " the fairest flowers of the 
season, carnations and streaked gilliflowers," — 
" rue for remembrance and pansies for thoughts" 
— they recked not of his gifts, but tore him with 
hideous shouts and laughter, 

" Nor could the Muse protect her son !" 

Unless an author has an establishment of his 
own, or is entered on that of some other person, 
he Will hardly be allowed to write English or 
to spell his own name. To be well spoken of, 
he must enlist under some standard ; he must 
belong to some coterie. He must get the esprit 
de corps on his side : he must have literary bail 
in readiness. Thus they prop one another's 
rickety heads at Murray's shop, and a spurious 
reputation, like false argument, runs in a circle. 
Croker affirms that Gifford is sprightly, and 
Gifford that Croker is genteel : D' Israeli that 
Jacob is wise, and Jacob that D'Israeli is good- 
natured. A Member of Parliament must be 
answerable that you are not dangerous or dull 
before you can be of the entree. You must com- 
mence toad-eater to have your observations at- 
tended to ; if you are independent, unconnected, 
you will be regarded as a poor creature. Your 
opinion is honest, you will say : then ten to one, 
it is not profitable. It is at any rate your own. 
So much the worse ; for then it is not the 



48 ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



world's. Tom Hill is a very tolerable baro- 
meter in this respect. He knows nothing, hears 
everything, and repeats just what he hears ; 
so that you may guess pretty well from this 
round-faced echo what is said by others ! 
Almost everything goes by presumption and 

appearances. " Did you not think Mr B 's 

language very elegant?" — I thought he bowed 
very low. " Did you not think him remark- 
ably well-behaved V — He was unexceptionably 

dressed. " But were not Mr C 's manners 

quite insinuating?"- — He said nothing. " You 
will at least allow his friend to be a well-in- 
formed man?" — He talked upon all subjects 
alike. Such would be a pretty faithful interpre- 
tation of the tone of what is called good society. 
The surface is everything : we do not pierce to 
the core. The setting is more valuable than 
the jewel. Is it not so in other things as well 
as letters? Is not an R A. by the supposition a 
greater man in his profession than any one who 
is not so blazoned ? Compared with that unri- 
valled list, Raphael had been illegitimate, Claude 
not classical, and Michael Angelo admitted by 
special favour. What is a physician without a 
diploma ? An alderman without being knighted ? 
An actor whose name does not appear in great 
letters ? All others are counterfeits — men " of 
no mark or likelihood/' This was what made 
the Jackals of the north so eager to prove that 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 49 

I had been turned out of the Edinburgh Review. 
It was not the merit of the articles which ex- 
cited their spleen — but their being there. Of 
the style they knew nothing; for the thought 
they cared nothing : — all that they knew was 
that I wrote in that powerful journal, and there- 
fore they asserted that I did not ! 

We find a class of persons who labour under 
an obvious natural inaptitude for whatever they 
aspire to. Their manner of setting about it is 
a virtual disqualification. The simple affirma- 
tion — " What this man has said, I will do," — - 
is not always considered as the proper test of 
capacity. On the contrary, there are people 
whose bare pretensions are as good or better 
than the actual performance of others. What I 
myself have done, for instance, I never find 
admitted as proof of what I shall be able to 
do : whereas I observe others who bring as 
proof of their confidence to any task (and are 
taken at their word) what they have never done, 
and who gravely assure those who are inclined 
to trust them that their talents are exactly fitted 
for some posts because they are just the reverse 
of what they have ever shown them to be. One 
man has the air of an Editor as much as another 
has that of a butler or porter in a gentleman's 

family. is the model of this character, 

with a prodigious look of business, an air of 
suspicion which passes for sagacity, and an air 

E 



50 ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 

of deliberation which passes for judgment. If 
his own talents are no ways prominent, it is 
inferred he will be more impartial and in earnest 
in making use of those of others. There is 
Britton, the responsible conductor of several 
works of taste and erudition, yet (God knows) 
without an idea in his head relating to any one 
of them. He is learned by proxy, and successful 
from sheer imbecility. If he were to get the 
smallest smattering of the departments which 
are under his control, he would betray himself 
from his desire to shine ; but as it is, he leaves 
others to do all the drudgery for him. He signs 
his name in the title-page or at the bottom of 
a vignette, and nobody suspects any mistake. 
This contractor for useful and ornamental 
literature once offered me Two Guineas for a 
' Life and Character of Shakespear/ with an 
admission to his conversaziones, I went once. 
There was a collection of learned lumber, of 
antiquaries, lexicographers, and other Illustrious 
Obscure, and I had given up the day for lost, 
when in dropped Jack Taylor, of the Sun — 
(Who would dare to deny that he was " the 
Sun of our table?") — and I had nothing now 
to do but hear and laugh. Mr Taylor knows 
most of the good things that have been said 
in the metropolis for the last thirty years, and 
is in particular an excellent retailer of the 
humours and extravagances of his old friend 



ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 



51 



Peter Pindar. He had recounted a series of 
them, each rising above the other in a sort of 
magnificent burlesque and want of literal 
preciseness, to a medley of laughing and soar 
faces, when on his proceeding to state a joke 
of a practical nature by the said Peter, a Mr 

(I forget the name) objected to the 

moral of the story, and to the whole texture of 
Mr Taylor's facetice — upon which our host, 
who had till now supposed that all was going 
on swimmingly, thought it time to interfere 
and give a turn to the conversation by say- 
ing — " Why yes, Gentlemen, what we have 
hitherto heard fall from the lips of our friend 
has been no doubt entertaining and highly 
agreeable in its way : but perhaps we have had 
enough of what is altogether delightful and 
pleasant, and light and laughable in conduct. 
Suppose, therefore, we were to shift the subject, 
and talk of what is serious and moral, and 
industrious and laudable in character — Let us 
talk of Mr Tomkins the Penman ! " — This 
staggered the gravest of us, broke up our 
dinner-party, and we went up stairs to tea. So 
much for the didactic vein of one of our prin- 
cipal guides in the embellished walks of modern 
taste, and master-manufacturers of letters. He 
had found that gravity had been a never-failing 
resource when taken at a pinch — for once the 
joke miscarried — and Mr Tomkins the Penman 



52 ON THE ARISTOCRACY OF LETTERS. 

figures to this day nowhere but in Sir Joshua's 
picture of him ! 

To complete the natural Aristocracy of 
Letters, we only want a Royal Society of 
Authors ! 



ESSAY III. 



ON CRITICISM. 



Criticism is an art that undergoes a great 
variety of changes, and aims at different objects 
at different times. 

At first, it is generally satisfied to give an 
opinion whether a work is good or bad, and to 
quote a passage or two in support of this opinion : 
afterwards, it is bound to assign the reasons of 
its decision, and to analyse supposed beauties or 
defects with microscopic minuteness. A critic 
does nothing now-a-days who does not try 
to torture the most obvious expression into a 
thousand meanings, and enter into a circuitous 
explanation of all that can be urged for or 
against its being in the best or worst style pos- 
sible. His object, indeed, is not to do justice to 
his author, whom he treats with very little 
ceremony, but to do himself homage, and to 
show his acquaintance with all the topics and 
resources of criticism. If he recurs to the 
stipulated subject in the end, it is not till after 



54 



ON CRITICISM. 



lie has exhausted his budget of general know- 
ledge ; and he establishes his own claims first 
in an elaborate inaugural dissertation de omni 
scibile et quibusdum aliis, before he deigns to 
bring forward the pretensions of the original 
candidate for praise, who is only the second 
figure in the piece. We may sometimes see 
articles of this sort, in which no allusion what- 
ever is made to the work under sentence of 
death, after the first announcement of the title- 
page; and I apprehend it would be a clear 
improvement on this species of nominal criti- 
cism, to give stated periodical accounts of works 
that have never appeared at all, which would 
save the hapless author the mortification of 
writing, and his reviewer the trouble of reading 
them. If the real author is made of so little 
account by the modern critic, he is scarcely 
more an object of regard to the modern reader ; 
and it must be confessed that after a dozen 
close-packed pages of subtle metaphysical 
distinction or solemn didactic declamation, in 
which the disembodied principles of all arts 
and sciences float before the imagination in 
undefined profusion, the eye turns with im- 
patience and indifference to the imperfect embryo 
specimens of them, and the hopeless attempts to 
realise this splendid jargon in one poor work 
by one poor author, which is given up to 
summary execution with as little justice as 



ON CRITICISM. 



55 



pity. " As when a well-graced actor leaves 
the stage, men's eyes are idly bent on him that 
enters next " — so it is here. — Whether this state 
of the press is not a serious abuse and a violent 
encroachment in the republic of letters, is more 
than I shall pretend to determine. The truth 
is, that in the quantity of works that issue from 
the press, it is utterly impossible they should 
all be read by all sorts of people. There must 
be tasters for the public, who must have a 
discretionary power vested in them, for which 
it is difficult to make them properly accountable. 
Authors in proportion to their numbers become 
not formidable, but despicable. They would 
not be heard of or severed from the crowd 
without the critic's aid, and all complaints of 
ill-treatment are vain. He considers them as 
pensioners on his bounty for any pittance of 
praise, and in general sets them up as butts for 
his wit and spleen, or uses them as a stalking- 
horse to convey his own favourite notions and 
opinions, which he can do by this means without 
the possibility of censure or appeal. He looks 
upon his literary protege (much as Peter Pounce 
looked upon Parson Adams) as a kind of humble 
companion or unnecessary interloper in the 
vehicle of fame, whom he has taken up purely 
to oblige him, and whom he may treat with 
neglect or insult, or set down in the common 
foot-path, whenever it suits his humour or con- 



m 



ON CRITICISM. 



venience. He naturally grows arbitrary with 
the exercise of power. He by degrees wants 
to have a clear stage to himself, and would be 
thought to have purchased a monopoly of wit, 
learning, and wisdom — 

" Assumes the rod, affects the God, 
And seems to shake the spheres." 

Besides, something of this overbearing manner 
goes a great way with the public. They cannot 
exactly tell whether you are right or wrong ; 
and if you state your difficulties or pay much 
deference to the sentiments of others, they will 
think you a very silly fellow or a mere pretender. 
A sweeping, unqualified assertion ends all con- 
troversy, and sets opinion at rest. A sharp, 
sententious, cavalier, dogmatical tone is there- 
fore necessary, even in self-defence, to the office 
of a reviewer. If you do not deliver your 
oracles without hesitation, how are the world 
to receive them on trust and without inquiry ? 
People read to have something to talk about, 
and "to seem to know that which they do 
not." Consequently, there cannot be too much 
dialectics and debateable matter, too much 
pomp and paradox in a review. To elevate and 
surprise is the great rule for producing a 
dramatic or a critical effect. The more you 
startle the reader, the more he will be able to 
startle others with a succession of smart intel- 
lectual shocks. The most of our admired re- 



ON CRITICISM. 



57 



views is saturated with this sort of electrical 
matter, which is regularly played off so as to 
produce a good deal of astonishment and a 
strong sensation in the public mind. The in- 
trinsic merits of an author are a question of 
very subordinate consideration to the keeping 
up the character of the work and supplying the 
town with a sufficient number of grave or 
brilliant topics for the consumption of the next 
three months ! 

This decided and paramount tone in criticism 
is the growth of the present century, and was 
not at all the fashion in that calm, peaceable 
period when the * Monthly Review' bore "sole 
sovereign sway and masterdom " over all literary 
productions. Though nothing can be said 
against the respectability or usefulness of that 
publication during its long and almost exclusive 
enjoyment of the public favour, yet the style of 
criticism adopted in it is such as to appear 
slight and unsatisfactory to a modern reader. 
The writers, instead of " outdoing termagant 
or out-Heroding Herod," were somewhat pre- 
cise and prudish, gentle almost to a fault, full 
of candour and modesty, 

" And of their port as meek as is a maid ! 99 * 



* A Mr Kose and the Rev. Dr Kippis were for many 
years its principal support. Mrs Rose (I have heard 
my father say) contributed the Monthly Catalogue* 



ON CRITICISM. 



There was none of that Drawcansir work going 
on then that there is now ; no scalping of 
authors, no hacking and hewing of their Lives 
and Opinions, except that they used those of 
Tristam Shandy, Gent, rather scurvily ; which 
was to be expected. All, however, had a show 
of courtesy and good manners. The satire was 
covered and artfully insinuated ; the praise was 
short and sweet. We met with no oracular 
theories ; no profound analysis of principles ; 
no unsparing exposure of the least discernible 
deviation from them. It was deemed sufficient 
to recommend the work in general terms, " This 
is an agreeable volume," or u This is a work 
of great learning and research/' to set forth 
the title and table of contents, and proceed with- 
out farther preface to some appropriate extracts, 
for the most part concurring in opinion with 
the author's text, but now and then interposing 
an objection to maintain appearances and assert 
the jurisdiction of the court. This cursory 
manner of hinting approbation or dissent would 
make but a lame figure at present. We must 
have not only an announcement that " This is 
an agreeable or able work," but we must have 



There is sometimes a certain tartness and the woman's 
tongue in it. It is said of Gray's Elegy—" This little 
poem, however humble its pretensions, is not without 
elegance or merit." The characters of prophet and critic 
are not always united. 



ON CRITICISM. 



59 



it explained at full length, and so as to silence all 
cavillers, in what the agreeableness or ability 
of the work consists : the author must be re- 
duced to a class, all the living or defunct exam- 
ples of which must be characteristically and 
pointedly differenced from one another; the 
value of this class of writing must be developed 
and ascertained in comparison with others ; the 
principles of taste, the elements of our sensa- 
tions, the structure of the human faculties, all 
must undergo a strict scrutiny and revision. 
The modern or metaphysical system of criticisim, 
in short, supposes the question, Why ? to be 
repeated at the end of every decision ; and the 
answer gives birth to interminable arguments 
and discussion. The former laconic mode was 
well adapted to guide those who merely wanted 
to be informed of the character and subject of 
a work in order to read it : the present is more 
useful to those whose object is less to read the 
work than to dispute upon its merits, and go 
into company clad in the whole defensive and 
offensive armour of criticism. 

Neither are we less removed at present from 
the dry and meagre mode of dissecting the 
skeletons of works, instead of transfusing their 
living principles, which prevailed in ' Dryden's 
Prefaces/ * and in the criticisms written on the 

* There are some splendid exceptions to this censure. 
His comparison between Ovid and Virgil, and his cha- 
racter of Shakespear, are master-pieces of their kind. 



60 



ON CRITICISM. 



model of the French school about a century 
ago. A genuine criticism should, as I take it, 
reflect the colours, the light and shade, the soul 
and body of a work : — here we have nothing 
but its superficial plan and elevation, as if a 
poem were a piece of formal architecture. We 
are told something of the plot or fable, of the 
moral, and of the observance or violation of the 
three unities of time, place, and action ; and 
perhaps a word or two is added on the dignity 
of the persons or the baldness of the style : but 
we no more know, after reading one of these 
complacent tirades, what the essence of the 
work is, what passion has been touched, or how 
skilfully, what tone and movement the author's 
mind imparts to his subject or receives from 
it, than if we had been reading a homily or 
a gazette. That is, we are left quite in the 
dark as to the feelings of pleasure or pain to 
be derived from the genius of the performance 
or the manner to which it appeals to the ima- 
gination : we know to a nicety how it squares 
with the thread-bare rules of composition, not 
in the least how it affects the principles of taste. 
We know everything about the work, and no- 
thing of it. The critic takes good care not to 
baulk the reader's fancy by anticipating the 
effect which the author has aimed at producing. 
To be sure, the works so handled were often 
worthy of their commentators: they had the 
form of imagination without the life of power ; 



ON CRITICISM. 



61 



and when any one had gone regularly through 
the number of acts into which they were divided, 
the measure in which they were written, or the 
story on which they were founded, there was 
little else to be said about them. It is curious 
to observe the effect which the i Paradise Lost 9 
had on this class of critics, like throwing a tub 
to a whale : they could make nothing of it. 
" It was out of all plumb — not one of the angles 
at the four corners was a right angle ! " They 
did not seek for, nor would they much relish, 
the marrow of poetry it contained. Like polem- 
ics in religion, they had discarded the essentials 
of fine writing for the outward form and points 
of controversy. They were at issue with Genius 
and Nature by what route and in what garb 
they should enter the Temple of the Muses. 
Accordingly we find that Dryden had no other 
way of satisfying himself of the pretensions of 
Milton in the epic style but by translating his 
anomalous work into rhyme and dramatic dia- 
logue. * — So there are connoisseurs who give 



* We have critics in the present day who cannot tell 
what to make of the tragic writers of Queen Elizabeth's 
age (except Shakespear, who passes by prescriptive 
right), and are extremely puzzled to reduce the efforts 
of their " great and irregular " power to the standard 
of their own slight and showy common -places. The 
truth is, they had better give up the attempt to reconcile 
such contradictions as an artificial taste and natural 



62 



ON CRITICISM. 



you the subject, the grouping, the perspective, 
and all the mechanical circumstances of a pic- 
ture, but never say a word about the expression. 
The reason is, they see the former, but not the 
latter. There are persons, however, who cannot 
employ themselves better than in taking an 
inventory of works of art (they want a faculty 
for higher studies), as there are works of art, 
so called, which seem to have been composed 
expressly with an eye to such a class of con- 
noisseurs. In them are to be found no recon- 
dite nameless beauties thrqwn away upon the 
stupid vulgar gaze; no u graces snatched beyond 
the reach of art ; " nothing but what the merest 
pretender may note down in good set terms in 
his common-place book, just as it is before him. 
Place one of these half-informed, imperfectly- 
organized spectators before a tall canvas with 
groups on groups of figures, of the size of life, 
and engaged in a complicated action, of which 
they know the name and all the particulars, 
and there are no bounds to their burst of invo- 
luntary enthusiasm. They mount on the stilts 



genius ; and repose on the admiration of verses which 
derive their odour from the scent of rose-leaves inserted 
between the pages, and their polish from the smoothness 
of the paper on which they are printed. They, and 
such writers as Deckar and Webster, Beaumont and 
Fletcher, Ford and Marlowe, move in different orbits of 
the human intellect, and need never jostle. 



ON CRITICISM. 



63 



of the subject and ascend the highest Heaven 
of Invention, from whence they see sights and 
hear revelations which they communicate with 
all the fervour of plenary explanation to those 
who may be disposed to attend to their raptures. 
They float with wings expanded in lofty circles, 
they stalk over the canvas at large strides, 
never condescending to pause at anything of 
less magnitude than a group or a colossal figure. 
The face forms no part of their collective in- 
quiries ; or so that it occupies only a sixth or 
an eighth proportion to the whole body, all is 
according to the received rules of composition. 
Point to a divine portrait of Titian, to an angelic 
head of Guido, close by — they see and heed it 
not. What are the " looks commercing with the 
skies/' the soul speaking in the face, to them ? 
It asks another and an inner sense to compre- 
hend them ; but for the trigonometry of painting, 
nature has constituted them indifferently well. 
They take a stand on the distinction between 
portrait and history, and there they are spell- 
bound. Tell them that there can be no fine 
history without portraiture, that the painter 
must proceed from that ground to the one 
above it, and that a hundred bad heads cannot 
make one good historical picture, and they will 
not believe you, though the thing is obvious to 
any gross capacity. Their ideas always fly to 
the circumference, and never fix at the centre. 



64 



ON CRITICISM. 



Art must be on a grand scale; according to 
them, the whole is greater than a part, and the 
greater necessarily implies the less. The outline 
is in this view of the matter the same thing as 
the filling-up, and " the limbs and flourishes of 
a discourse " the substance. Ap* ain, the same 
persons make an absolute distinction, without 
knowing why, between high and low subjects. 
Say that you would as soon have Murillo's 
Two Beggar- Boys at the Dulwich Gallery as 
almost any picture in the world, that is, that it 
would be one you would chuse out of ten (had 
you the choice), and they reiterate upon you, 
that surely a low subject cannot be of equal 
value with a high one. It is in vain that you 
turn to the picture : they keep to the class. 
They have eyes, but see not ; and upon their 
principles of refined taste, would be just as 
good judges of the merit of the picture with- 
out seeing it as with that supposed advantage. 
They know what the subject is from the cata- 
logue ! — Yet it is not true, as Lord Byron asserts, 
that execution is everything, and the class or 
subject nothing. The highest subjects, equally 
well-executed (which, however, rarely happens), 
are the best. But the power of execution, the 
manner of seeing nature, is one thing, and may 
be so superlative (if you are only able to judge 
of it) as to countervail every disadvantage of 
subject. Raphael's storks in the Miraculous 



ON CRITICISM. 



65 



Draught of Fishes, exulting in the event, are 
finer than the head of Christ would have been 
in almost any other hands. The cant of criticism 
is on the other side of the question ; because 
execution depends on various degrees of power 
in the artist, and a knowledge of it on various 
degrees of feeling and discrimination in you : 
but to commence artist or connoisseur in the 
grand style at once, without any distinction of 
qualifications whatever, it is only necessary for 
the first to choose his subject, and for the last 
to pin his faith on the sublimity of the perform- 
ance, for both to look down with ineffable con- 
tempt on the painters and admirers of subjects 
of low life. I remember a young Scotchman 
once trying to prove to me that Mrs Dickons 
was a superior singer to Miss Stephens, because 
the former excelled in sacred music, and the 
latter did not. At that rate, that is, if it is the 
singing sacred music that gives the preference, 
Miss Stephens would only have to sing sacred 
music to surpass herself and vie with the pre- 
tended rival ; for this theory implies that all 
sacred music is equally good, and therefore 
better than any other. I grant that Madame 
Catalani's singing of sacred music is superior to 
Miss Stephens's ballad-strains, because her sing- 
ing is better altogether, and an ocean of sound 
more wonderful than a simple stream of dulcet 
harmonies. In singing the last verse of " God 

F 



66 



ON CRITICISM. 



save the King " not long ago, her voice towered 
above the whole confused noise of the orchestra, 
like an eagle piercing the clouds, and poured 
" such sweet thunder " through the ear, as ex- 
cited equal astonishment and rapture ! 

Some kinds of criticism are as much too 
insipid as others are too pragmatical. It is not 
easy to combine point with solidity, spirit with 
moderation and candour. Many persons see 
nothing but beauties in a work, others nothing 
but defects. Those cloy you with sweets, and 
are " the very milk of human kindness/' flow- 
ing on in a stream of luscious panegyrics ; these 
take delight in poisoning the sources of your 
satisfaction, and putting you out of conceit 
with nearly every author that comes in their 
way. The first are frequently actuated by per- 
sonal friendship, the last by all the virulence of 
party-spirit. Under the latter head would fall 
what may be termed 'political criticism. The 
basis of this style of writing is a caput mortuum 
of impotent spite and dulness, till it is varnished 
over with the slime of servility, and thrown 
into a state of unnatural activity by the venom 
of the most rancorous bigotry. The eminent 
professors in this grovelling department are at 
first merely out of sorts with themselves, and 
vent their spleen in little interjections and con- 
tortions of phrase: — cry Pish at a lucky hit, 
and Hem at a fault — are smart on personal de- 



ON CRITICISM. 



67 



fects, and sneer at " Beauty out of favour and 
on crutches'* — are thrown into an ague-fit by 
hearing the name of a rival — start back with 
horror at any approach to their morbid pre- 
tensions, like J ustice Woodcock with his gouty 
limbs — rifle the flowers of the Delia Cruscan 
school, and give you in their stead, as models 
of a pleasing pastoral style, Verses upon Anna 
— which you may see in the notes to the Baviad 
and Maeviad. All this is like the fable of 
the Kitten and the Leaves. But when they 
get their brass collar on and shake their bells 
of office, they set up their backs like the Great 
Cat Rodilardus, and pounce upon men and 
things. Woe to any little heedless reptile of an 
author that ventures across their path without 
a safe-conduct from the Board of Controul. 
They snap him up at a mouthful, and sit licking 
their lips, stroking their whiskers, and rattling 
their bells over the imaginary fragments of their 
devoted prey, to the alarm and astonishment of 
the whole breed of literary, philosophical, and 
revolutionary vermin, that were naturalised in 
this country by a Prince of Orange and an 
Elector of Hanover a hundred years ago.* 
When one of these pampered, sleek, " demure- 



* The intelligent reader will be pleased to understand, 
that there is here a tacit allusion to Squire Western's sig- 
nificant phrase of Hanover Eats. 



68 



ON CRITICISM. 



looking, spring-nailed, velvet-pawed, green- 
eyed" critics makes his King and Country 
parties to this sort of sport literary, you have 
not much chance of escaping out of his clutches 
in a whole skin. Treachery becomes a principle 
with them, and mischief a conscience, that is, 
a livelihood. They not only damn the work in 
the lump, but vilify and traduce the author, and 
substitute lying abuse and sheer malignity for 
sense and satire. To have written a popular 
work is as much as a man's character is worth, 
and sometimes his life, if he does not happen 
to be on the right side of the question. The 
way in which they set about stultifying an ad- 
versary is not to accuse you of faults, or to ex- 
aggerate those which you may really have, but 
they deny that you have any merits at all, least 
of all, those that the world have given you credit 
for ; bless themselves from understanding a 
single sentence in a whole volume ; and unless 
you are ready to subscribe to all their articles 
of peace, will not allow you to be qualified to 
write your own name. It is not a question 
of literary discussion, but of political proscrip- 
tion. It is a mark of loyalty and patriotism 
to extend no quarter to those of the opposite 
party. Instead of replying to your arguments, 
they call you names, put words and opinions 
into your mouth which you have never uttered, 
and consider it a species of misprision of 



ON CRITICISM. 



09 



treason to admit that a Whig author knows 
anything of common sense or English. The 
only chance of putting a stop to this unfair 
mode of dealing would perhaps be to make a 
few reprisals by way of example. The Court 
party boast some writers who have a reputation 
to lose, and who would not like to have their 
names dragged through the kennel of dirty 
abuse and vulgar obloquy. What silenced the 
masked battery of Blackwood's Magazine was 
the implication of the name of Sir Walter Scott 
in some remarks upon it — (an honour of w r hich 
it seems that extraordinary person was not ambi- 
tious) — to be " pilloried on infamy's high stage" 
was a distinction and an amusement to the other 
gentlemen concerned in that praiseworthy pub- 
lication. I was complaining not long ago of 
this prostitution of literary criticism as peculiar 
to our own times, when I was told that it was 
just as bad in the time of Pope and Dryden, 
and indeed worse, inasmuch as we have no 
Popes or Drydens now on the obnoxious side 
to be nicknamed, metamorphosed into scare- 
crows, and impaled alive by bigots and dunces. 
I shall not pretend to say how far this remark 
may be true. The English (it must be owned) 
are rather a foul-mouthed nation. 

Besides temporary or accidental biases of this 
kind, there seem to be sects and parties in taste 
and criticism (with a set of appropriate watch- 



70 



ON CRITICISM. 



words) coeval with the arts of composition, and 
that will last as long as the difference with which 
men's minds are originally constituted. There 
are some who are all for the elegance of an 
author's style, and some who are equally de- 
lighted with simplicity. The last refer you to 
Swift as a model of English prose — thinking 
all other writers sophisticated and naught — the 
former prefer the more ornamented and sparkling 
periods of Junius or Gibbon. It is to no pur- 
pose to think of bringing about an understand- 
ing between these opposite factions. It is a 
natural difference of temperament and constitu- 
tion of mind. The one will never relish the 
antithetical point and perpetual glitter of the 
artificial prose-style; as the plain unperverted 
English idiom will always appear trite and in- 
sipid to the others. A toleration, not an uni- 
formity of opinion, is as much as can be expected 
in this case : and both sides may acknowledge, 
without imputation on their taste or consistency, 
that these different writers excelled each in their 
way. I might remark here that the epithet 
elegant is very sparingly used in modern criti- 
cism. It has probably gone out of fashion with 
the appearance of the Lake School, who, I appre- 
hend, have no such phrase in their vocabulary. 
Mr Rogers was, I think, almost the last poet 
to whom it was applied as a characteristic com- 
pliment. At present it would be considered as 



ON CRITICISM. 



71 



a sort of diminutive of the title of poet, like 
the terms pretty or fanciful, and is banished 
from the haut ton of letters. It may perhaps 
come into request at some future period. — 
Again, the dispute between the admirers of 
Homer and Virgil has never been settled, and 
never will ; for there will always be minds to 
whom the excellences of Virgil will be more 
congenial, and therefore more objects of ad- 
miration and delight, than those of Homer, and 
vice versa. Both are right in preferring what 
suits them best, the delicacy and selectness of 
the one, or the fulness and majestic flow of the 
other. There is the same difference in their 
tastes that there was in the genius of their two 
favourites. Neither can the disagreement be- 
tween the French and English school of tragedy 
ever be reconciled, till the French become En- 
glish, or the English French.* Both are right 
in what they admire, both are wrong in con- 
demning the others for what they admire. We 
see the defects of Racine, they see the faults of 
Shakespear, probably in an exaggerated point of 
view. But we may be sure of this, that when 
w r e see nothing but grossness and barbarism, or 
insipidity and verbiage, in a writer that is the 



* Of the two the latter alternative is more likely to 
happen. We abuse and imitate them. They laugh at 
but do not imitate us. 



72 



ON CRITICISM. 



God of a nation's idolatry, it is we and not they 
who want true taste and feeling. The con- 
troversy about Pope and the opposite school in 
our own poetry comes to much the same thing. 
Pope's correctness, smoothness, &c, are very 
good things and much to be commended in him. 
But it is not to be expected or even desired 
that others should have these qualities in the 
same paramount degree, to the exclusion of 
everything else. If you like correctness and 
smoothness of all things in the world, there 
they are for you in Pope. If you like other 
things better, such as strength and sublimity, 
you know where to go for them. Why trouble 
Pope or any other author for what they have 
not, and do not profess to give ? Those who 
seem to imply that Pope possessed, besides his 
own peculiar, exquisite merits, all that is to be 
found in Shakespear or Milton, are I should 
hardly think in good earnest. But I do not 
therefore see that, because this was not the case, 
Pope was no poet. We cannot by a little verbal 
sophistry confound the qualities of different 
minds, nor force opposite excellences into a 
union by all the intolerance in the world. We 
may pull Pope in pieces as long as we please, 
for not being Shakespear or Milton, as we may 
carp at them for not being Pope : but this will 
not make a poet equal to all three. If we 
have a taste for some one precise style or 



ON CRITICISM. 



73 



manner, we may keep it to ourselves and let 
others have theirs. If we are more catholic in 
our notions, and want variety of excellence and 
beauty, it is spread abroad for us to profusion 
in the variety of books and in the several 
growth of men's minds, fettered by no ca- 
pricious or arbitrary rules. Those who would 
proscribe whatever falls short of a given standard 
of imaginary perfection, do so not from a higher 
capacity of taste or range of intellect than 
others, but to destroy, to " crib and cabin in," 
all enjoyments and opinions but their own. 

We find people of a decided and original, 
and others of a more general and versatile taste. 
I have sometimes thought that the most acute 
and original-minded men made bad critics. 
They see everything too much through a par- 
ticular medium. What does not fall in with 
their own bias and mode of composition, strikes 
them as common-place and factitious. What 
does not come into the direct line of their 
vision, they regard idly, with vacant, u lack- 
lustre eye." The extreme force of their original 
impressions, compared with the feebleness of 
those they receive at second-hand from others, 
oversets the balance and just proportion of their 
minds. Men who have fewer native resources, 
and are obliged to apply oftener to the general 
stock, acquire by habit a greater aptitude in 
appreciating what they owe to others. Their 



74 



ON CRITICISM. 



taste is not made a sacrifice to their egotism 
and vanity, and they enrich the soil of their 
minds with continual accessions of borrowed 
strength and beauty. I might take this op- 
portunity of observing, that the person of the 
most refined and least contracted taste I ever 
knew was the late Joseph Fawcett, the friend 
of my youth. He was almost the first literary 
acquaintance I ever made, and I think the most 
candid and unsophisticated. He had a masterly 
perception of all styles and of every kind and 
degree of excellence, sublime or beautiful, from 
Milton's Paradise Lost to Shenstone's Pastoral 
Ballad, from Butler's Analogy down to Humphry 
Clinker. If you had a favourite author, he had 
read him too, and knew all the best morsels, 
the subtile traits, the capital touches. " Do you 
like Sterne?" — u Yes, to be sure," he would 
say, " I should deserve to be hanged, if I 
didn't ! " His repeating some parts of Comus 
with his fine, deep, mellow-toned voice, par- 
ticularly the lines, " I have heard my mother 
Circe with the Sirens three," &c. — and the en- 
thusiastic comments he made afterwards, were a 
feast to the ear and to the soul. He read the 
poetry of Milton with the same fervour and spirit 
of devotion that I have since heard others read 
their own. " That is the most delicious feeling 
of all," I have heard him exclaim, " to like what 
is excellent, no matter whose it is." In this 



ON CRITICISM. 



75 



respect he practised what he preached. He 
was incapable of harbouring a sinister motive, 
and judged only from what he felt. There was 
no flaw or mist in the clear mirror of his mind. 
He was as open to impressions as he was 
strenuous in maintaining them. He did not 
care a rush whether a writer was old or new, in 
prose or in verse — " What he wanted/' he said, 
" was something to make him think." Most 
men's minds are to me like musical instruments 
out of tune. Touch a particular key, and it 
jars and makes harsh discord with your own. 
They like Gil Bias, but can see nothing to laugh 
at in Don Quixote : they adore Richardson, but 
are disgusted with Fielding. Fawcett had a 
taste accommodated to all these. He was not 
exceptions. He gave a cordial welcome to all 
sorts, provided they were the best in their kind. 
He was not fond of counterfeits or duplicates. 
His own style was laboured and artificial to a 
fault, while his character was frank and in- 
genuous in the extreme. He was not the only 
individual whom I have known to counteract 
their natural disposition in coming before the 
public, and by avoiding what they perhaps 
thought an inherent infirmity, debar themselves 
of their real strength and advantages. A heartier 
friend or honester critic I never coped withal. 
He has made me feel (by contrast) the want of 
genuine sincerity and generous sentiment in 



70 



ON CRITICISM. 



some that I have listened to since, and con- 
vinced me (if practical proof were wanting) of 
the truth of that text of Scripture — " That 
had I all knowledge, and could speak with the 
tongues of angels, yet without charity I were 
nothing!" I would rather be a man of dis- 
interested taste and liberal feeling, to see and 
acknowledge truth and beauty wherever I found 
it, than a man of greater and more original 
genius, to hate, envy, and deny all excellence 
but my own — but that poor scanty pittance of 
it (compared with the whole) which I had my- 
self produced ! 

There is another race of critics who might 
be designated as the Occult School — vere adepti. 
They discern no beauties but what are concealed 
from superficial eyes, and overlook all that are 
obvious to the vulgar part of mankind. Their 
art is the transmutation of styles. By happy 
alchemy of mind they convert dross into gold 
— and gold into tinsel. They see farther into 
a millstone than most others. If an author is 
utterly unreadable, they can read him for ever ; 
his intricacies are their delight, his mysteries are 
their study. They prefer Sir Thomas Brown to 
the Rambler by Dr J ohnson, and Burton's Ana- 
tomy of Melancholy to all the writers of the 
Georgian Age. They judge of works of genius 
as misers do of hid treasure — it is of no value un- 
less they have it all to themselves. They will no 



ON CRITICISM. 



77 



more share a book J^han a mistress with a friend. 
If they suspected their favourite volumes of de- 
lighting any eyes but their own, they would 
immediately discard them from the list. Theirs 
are superannuated beauties that every one else 
has left off intriguing with, bed-ridden hags, a 
" stud of night-mares." This is not envy or af- 
fectation, but a natural proneness to singularity, 
a love of what is odd and out of the way. They 
must come at their pleasure with difficulty, 
and support admiration by an uneasy sense of 
ridicule and opposition. They despise those 
qualities in a work which are cheap and obvious. 
They like a monopoly of taste, and are shocked 
at the prostitution of intellect implied in popular 
productions. In like manner, they would choose 
a friend or recommend a mistress for gross de- 
fects ; and tolerate the sweetness of an actress's 
voice only for the ugliness of her face. Pure 
pleasures are in their judgment cloying and 
insipid — 

" An ounce of sour is worth a pound of sweet ! " 

Nothing goes down with them but what is 
caviare to the multitude. They are eaters of 
olives and readers of black-letter. Yet they 
smack of genius, and would be worth any money, 
were it only for the rarity of the thing ! 

The last sort I shall mention are verbal critics 
— mere word-catchers, fellows that pick out a 



78 



ON CRITICISM. 



word in a sentence and a sentence in a volume, 
and tell you it is wrong.* These erudite persons 
constantly find out by anticipation that you are 
deficient in the smallest things — that you cannot 
spell certain words, or join the nominative case 
and the verb together, because to do this is the 
height of their own ambition, and of course 
they must set you down lower than their opinion 
of themselves. They degrade by reducing you 
to their own standard of merit ; for the qualifi- 
cations they deny you, or the faults they object 
are so very insignificant, that to prove yourself 
possessed of the one or free from the other, is 
to make yourself doubly ridiculous. Littleness 
is their element, and they give a character of 
meanness to whatever they touch. They creep, 
buzz, and fly-blow. It is much easier to crush 
than to catch these troublesome insects ; and 
when they are in your power, your self-respect 
spares them. The race is almost extinct : — one 
or two of them are sometimes seen crawling 
over the pages of the Quarterly Review ! 



* The title of Ultra- Crepidarian critics has been given 
to a variety of this species. 



ESSAY IV. 

ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 



" These little things are great to little men." 

Goldsmith. 



The great and the little have, no doubt, a real 
existence in the nature of things : but they both 
find pretty much the same level in the mind of 
man. It is a common measure, which does not 
always accommodate itself to the size and impor- 
tance of the objects it represents. It has a certain 
interest to spare for certain things (and no more) 
according to its humour and capacity; and 
neither likes to be stinted in its allowance, nor 
to muster up an unusual share of sympathy, just 
as the occasion may require. Perhaps if we 
could recollect distinctly, we should discover 
that the two things that have affected us most in 
the course of our lives have been, one of them of 
the greatest, and the other of the smallest possi- 
ble consequence. To let that pass as too fine a 
speculation, we know well enough that very 
trifling circumstances do give us great and daily 
annoyance, and as often prove too much for our 
philosophy and forbearance, as matters of the 



80 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

highest moment. A lump of soot spoiling a 
man's dinner, a plate of toast falling in the 
ashes, the being disappointed of a ribbon to a 
cap or a ticket to a ball, have led to serious and 
almost tragical consequences. Friends not un- 
frequently fall out and never meet again for 
some idle misunderstanding, "some trick not 
worth an egg," who have stood the shock of se- 
rious differences of opinion and clashing in- 
terests in life ; and there is an excellent paper in 
the Tattler, to prove that if a married couple 
do not quarrel about some point in the first in- 
stance not worth contesting, they will seldom 
find an opportunity afterwards to quarrel about 
a question of real importance. Grave divines, 
great statesmen, and deep philosophers are put 
out of their way by very little things : nay, dis- 
creet, worthy people, without any pretensions 
but to good-nature and common sense, readily 
surrender the happiness of their whole lives 
sooner than give up an opinion to which they 
have committed themselves, though in all likeli- 
hood it was the mere turn of a feather which 
side they should take in the argument. It is 
the being baulked or thwarted in anything that 
constitutes the grievance, the unpardonable af- 
front, not the value of the thing to which we 
had made up our minds. Is it that we despise 
little things ; that we are not prepared for them ; 
that they take us in our careless, unguarded 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 81 

moments, and tease us out of our ordinary pa- 
tience by their petty, incessant, insect warfare, 
buzzing about us and stinging us like gnats; 
so that we can neither get rid of nor grapple 
with them, whereas we collect all our fortitude 
and resolution to meet evils of greater magni- 
tude ? Or is it that there is a certain stream of 
irritability that is continually fretting upon the 
wheels of life, which finds sufficient food to play 
with in straws and feathers, while great objects 
are too much for it, either choke it up, or divert 
its course into serious and thoughtful interest? 
Some attempt might be made to explain this in 
the following manner. 

One is always more vexed at losing a game 
of any sort by a single hole or ace, than if one 
has never had a chance of winning it. This is 
no doubt in part or chiefly because the prospect 
of success irritates the subsequent disappoint- 
ment. But people have been known to pine 
and fall sick from holding the next number to 
the twenty thousand pound prize in the lottery. 
Now this could only arise from their being so 
near winning in fancy, from there seeming to be 
so thin a partition between them and success. 
When they were within one of the right num- 
ber, why could they not have taken the next — ■ 
it was so easy : this haunts their minds and will 
not let them rest, notwithstanding the absurdity 
of the reasoning. It is that the will here has a 

G 



82 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

slight imaginary obstacle to surmount to attain 
its end ; it should appear it had only an ex- 
ceedingly trifling effort to make for this pur- 
pose, that it was absolutely in its power (had it 
known) to seize the envied prize, and it is con- 
tinually harassing itself by making the obvious 
transition from one number to the other, when 
it is too late. That is to say, the will acts in 
proportion to its fancied power, to its superiority 
over immediate obstacles. Now in little or in- 
different matters there seems no reason why it 
should not have its own way, and therefore a 
disappointment vexes it the more. It grows 
angry according to the insignificance of the 
occasion, and frets itself to death about an ob- 
ject, merely because from its very futility there 
can be supposed to be no real difficulty in the 
way of its attainment, nor anything more re- 
quired for this purpose than a determination 
of the will. The being baulked of this throws 
the mind off its balance, or puts it into what is 
called a passion; and as nothing but an act of 
voluntary power still seems necessary to get rid 
of every impediment, we indulge our violence 
more and more, and heighten our impatience by 
degrees into a sort of frenzy. The object is the 
same as it was, but we are no longer as we were. 
The blood is heated, the muscles are strained. 
The feelings are wound up to a pitch of agony 
with the vain strife. The temper is tried to the 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 



83 



utmost it will bear. The more contemptible the 
object or the obstructions in the way to it, the 
more are we provoked at being hindered by 
them. It looks like witchcraft. We fancy there 
is a spell upon us, so that we are hampered by 
straws and entangled in cobwebs. We believe 
that there is a fatality about our affairs. It is 
evidently on purpose to plague us. A demon is 
at our elbow to torment and defeat us in every- 
thing, even in the smallest things. We see him 
sitting and mocking us, and we rave and gnash 
our teeth at him in return. It is particularly 
hard that we cannot succeed in any one point, 
however trifling, that we set our hearts on. We 
are the sport of imbecility and mischance. We 
make another desperate effort, and fly out into 
all the extravagance of impotent rage once 
more. Our anger runs away with our reason, 
because, as there is little to give it birth, there 
is nothing to check it or recal us to our senses 
in the prospect of consequences. We take up 
and rend in pieces the mere toys of humour, as 
the gusts of wind take up and whirl about chaff 
and stubble. Passion plays the tyrant, in a 
grand tragic-comic style, over the Lilliputian 
difficulties and petty disappointments it has to 
encounter, gives way to all the fretfulness of 
grief and all the turbulence of resentment, makes 
a fuss about nothing because there is nothing 
to make a fuss about — when an impending 



84 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 



calamity, an irretrievable loss, would instantly 
bring it to its recollection, and tame it in its 
preposterous career. A man may be in a great 
passion and give himself strange airs at so simple 
a thing as a game at ball, for instance ; may rage 
like a wild beast, and be ready to dash his head 
against the wall about nothing, or about that 
which he will laugh at the next minute, and think 
no more of ten minutes after, at the same time 
that a good smart blow from the ball, the effects 
of which he might feel as a serious inconvenience 
for a month, would calm him directly — 

" Anon as patient as the female dove, 
His silence will sit drooping." 

The truth is, we pamper little griefs into great 
ones, and bear great ones as well as we can. 
We can afford to dally and play tricks with the 
one, but the others we have enough to do with, 
without any of the wantonness and bombast of 
passion — without the swaggering of Pistol, or 
the insolence of King Cambyses' vein. To 
great evils we submit, we resent little provoca- 
tions. I have before now been disappointed of 
a hundred pound job and lost half a crown at 
rackets on the same day, and been more morti- 
fied at the latter than the former. That which 
is lasting we share with the future, we defer 
the consideration of till to-morrow : that which 
belongs to the moment we drink up in all its 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 85 

bitterness, before the spirit evaporates. We 
probe minute mischiefs to the quick : we la- 
cerate, tear, and mangle our bosoms with mis- 
fortune's finest, brittlest point, and wreak our 
vengeance on ourselves and it for good and all. 
Small pains are more manageable, more within 
our reach ; we can fret and worry ourselves 
about them, can turn them into any shape, can 
twist and torture them how we please : — a grain 
of sand in the eye, a thorn in the flesh only 
irritates the part, and leaves us strength enough 
to quarrel and get out of all patience with it : — 
a heavy blow stuns and takes away all power of 
sense as well as of resistance. The great and 
mighty reverses of fortune, like the revolutions 
of nature, may be said to carry their own weight 
and reason along with them : they seem un- 
avoidable and remediless, and we submit to 
them without murmuring as to a fatal necessity. 
The magnitude of the events, in which we 
may happen to be concerned, fills the mind, 
and carries it out of itself, as it were, into the 
page of history. Our thoughts are expanded 
with the scene on which we have to act, and 
lend us strength to disregard our own personal 
share in it. Some men are indifferent to the 
stroke of fate, as before and after earthquakes 
there is a calm in the air. From the command- 
ing situation whence they have been accustomed 
to view things, they look down at themselves 



86 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

as only a part of the whole, and can abstract 
their minds from the pressure of misfortune, by 
the aid of its very violence. They are pro- 
jected, in the explosion of events, into a different 
sphere, far from their former thoughts, purposes, 
and passions. The greatness of the change 
anticipates the slow effects of time and re- 
flection : — they at once contemplate themselves 
from an immense distance, and look up with 
speculative wonder at the height on which they 
stood. Had the downfal been less complete, it 
would have been more galling and borne with 
less resignation, because there might still be a 
chance of remedying it by farther efforts and 
farther endurance — but past cure, past hope. 
It is chiefly this cause (together with some- 
thing of constitutional character) which has 
enabled the greatest man in modern history to 
bear his reverses of fortune with gay magna- 
nimity, and to submit to the loss of the empire 
of the world with as little discomposure as if he 
had been playing a game at chess.* This does 
not prove by our theory that he did not use 
to fly into violent passions with Talleyrand for 
plaguing him with bad news when things went 
wrong. He was mad at uncertain forebodings 
of disaster, but resigned to its consummation. 



* This Essay was written in January, 1821. 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 87 



A man may dislike impertinence, yet have no 
quarrel with necessity ! 

There is another consideration that may take 
off our wonder at the firmness with which the 
principals in great vicissitudes of fortune bear 
their fate, which is that they are in the secret 
of its operations, and know that what to others 
appears chance-medley was unavoidable. The 
clearness of their perception of all the circum- 
stances converts the uneasiness of doubt into 
certainty : they have not the qualms of con- 
science which their admirers have, who cannot 
tell how much of the event is to be attributed 
to the leaders, and how much to unforeseen 
accidents : they are aware either that the result 
was not to be helped, or that they did all they 
could to prevent it. 

" Si Pergama dextra 

Defendi possent, etiam hac defensa fuissent." 

It is the mist and obscurity through which we 
view objects that makes us fancy they might 
have been, or might still be otherwise. The 
precise knowledge of antecedents and conse- 
quents makes men practical as well as philo- 
sophical Necessarians. — It is the want of this 
knowledge which is the principle and soul of 
gambling, and of games of chance or partial 
skill. The supposition is, that the issue is un- 
certain, and that there is no positive means of 
ascertaining it. It is dependent on the turn of 



88 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

a die, on the tossing up of a halfpenny : to be 
fair, it must be a lottery ; there is no knowing 
but by the event : and it is this which keeps 
the interest alive, and works up the passion 
little short of madness. There is all the agita- 
tion of suspense, all the alternation of hope and 
fear, of good and bad success, all the eagerness 
of desire, without the possibility of reducing 
this to calculation, that is, of subjecting the 
increased action of the will to a known rule, or 
restraining the excesses of passion within the 
bounds of reason. We see no cause beforehand 
why the run of the cards should not be in our 
favour : — we will hear of none afterwards why 
it should not have been so. As in the absence 
of all data to judge by, we wantonly fill up the 
blank with the most extravagant expectations, 
so, when all is over, we obstinately recur to 
the chance we had previously. There is nothing 
to tame us down to the event, nothing to re- 
concile us to our hard luck, for so we think it. 
We see no reason why we failed (and there was 
none, any more than why we should succeed) — 
we think that, reason apart, our will is the next 
best thing; we still try to have it our own 
way, and fret, torment, and harrow ourselves up 
with vain imaginations to effect impossibilities.* 



* Losing gamesters thus become desperate, because 
the continued and violent irritation of the will against a 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 89 



We play the game over again : we wonder how 
it was possible for us to fail. We turn our brain 
with straining at contradictions, and striving 
to make things what they are not, or in other 
words, to subject the course of nature to our 
fantastical wishes. " If it had been so— if we 
had done such and such a thing " — we try it in 
a thousand different ways, and are just as far off 
the mark as ever. We appealed to chance in 
the first instance, and yet, when it has decided 
against us, we will not give in, and sit down 
contented with our loss, but refuse to submit to 
anything but reason, which has nothing to do 
with the matter. In drawing two straws, for 
example, to see which is the longest, there was 
an apparent necessity we should fix upon the 
wrong one, it was so easy to have fixed upon 
the other, nay, at one time we were going to 
do it — if we had — the mind thus runs back to 
what was so possible and feasible at one time, 
while the thing was pending, and would fain 
give a bias to causes so slender and insignificant, 
as the skittle-player bends his body to give a 
bias to the bowl he has already delivered from 
his hand, not considering that what is once 
determined, be the cause ever so trivial or 



run of ill luck drives it to extremity, and makes it bid 
defiance to common sense and every consideration of 
prudence or self-interest. 



90 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

evanescent, is in the individual instance unalter- 
able. Indeed, to be a great philosopher, in the 
practical and most important sense of the term, 
little more seems necessary than to be convinced 
of the truth of the maxim, which the wise man 
repeated to the daughter of King Cophetua, 
" That if a thing is, it is," and there is an end 
of it! 

We often make life unhappy in wishing things 
to have turned out otherwise than they did, 
merely because that is possible to the imagina- 
tion which is impossible in fact. I remember when 
Lamb's farce was damned (for damned it was, 
that's certain) I used to dream every night for 
a month after (and then I vowed I would plague 
myself no more about it) that it was revived at 
one of the minor or provincial theatres with 
great success, that such and such retrenchments 
and alterations had been made in it, and that it 
was thought it might do at the other House. I 
had heard indeed (this was told in confidence 
to Lamb) that Gentleman Lewis was present on 
the night of its performance, and said that if 
he had had it, he would have made it, by a few 
judicious curtailments, " the most popular little 
thing that had been brought out for some time." 
How often did I conjure up in recollection the 
full diapason of applause at the end of the 
Prologue, and hear my ingenious friend in the 
first row of the pit roar with laughter at his 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 91 

own wit ! Then I dwelt with forced com- 
placency on some part in which it had been 
doing well : then we would consider (in concert) 
whether the long, tedious opera of the " Tra- 
vellers/' which preceded it, had not tried people 
beforehand, so that they had not spirits left for 
the quaint and sparkling " wit skirmishes " of 
the dialogue, and we all agreed it might have 
gone down after a Tragedy, except Lamb him- 
self, who swore he had no hopes of it from the 
beginning, and that he knew the name of the 
hero when it came to be discovered could not 

be got over. — Mr H , thou wert damned ! 

Bright shone the morning on the play-bills that 
announced thy appearance, and the streets were 
filled with the buzz of persons asking one an- 
other if they would go to see Mr H , and 

answering that they would certainly : but be- 
fore night the gaiety, not of the author but of 
his friends and the town, was eclipsed, for thou 
wert damned ! Hadst thou been anonymous, 
thou haply might have lived. But thou didst 
come to an untimely end for thy tricks, and for 
want of a better name to pass them off ! 

In this manner we go back to the critical 
minutes on which the turn of our fate, or that 
of any one else in whom we are interested, 
depended ; try them over again with new know- 
ledge and sharpened sensibility ; and thus think 
to alter what is irrevocable, and ease for a mo- 



92 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 



ment the pang of lasting regret. So in a game 
at rackets* (to compare small things with great) 
I think if at such a point I had followed up my 
success, if I had not been too secure or over- 
anxious in another part, if I had played for 
such an opening, in short, if I had done any- 
thing but what I did and what has proved un- 
fortunate in the result, the chances were all in 
my favour. But it is merely because I do not 
know what would have happened in the other 
case, that I interpret it so readily to my own 
advantage. I have sometimes laid awake a 
whole night, trying to serve out the last ball of 
an interesting game in a particular corner of 
the court, which I had missed from a nervous 
feeling. Rackets (I might observe for the sake 
of the uninformed reader) is, like any other 
athletic game, very much a thing of skill and 
practice : but it is also a thing of opinion, " sub- 
ject to all the skyey influences. 99 If you think 
you can win, you can win. Faith is necessary 
to victory. If you hesitate in striking at the 
ball, it is ten to one but you miss it. If you 
are apprehensive of committing some particular 
error (such as striking the ball foul) you will 



* Some of the poets in the beginning of the last cen- 
tury would often set out on a simile by observing — " So 
in Arabia have I seen a Phoenix ! " I confess my illus- 
trations are of a more homely and humble nature. 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 93 

be nearly sure to do it. While thinking of that 
which you are so earnestly bent upon avoiding, 
your hand mechanically follows the strongest 
idea, and obeys the imagination rather than the 
intention of the striker. A run of luck is a 
fore-runner of success, and courage is as much 
wanted as skill. No one is however free from 
nervous sensations at times. A good player 
may not be able to strike a single stroke if an- 
other comes into the court that he has a parti- 
cular dread of; and it frequently so happens 
that a player cannot beat another, even though 
he can give half the game to an equal player, 
because he has some associations of jealousy or 
personal pique against the first which he has 
not towards the last. Sed hcec hactenus. Chess 
is a game I do not understand, and have not 
comprehension enough to play at. But I believe, 
though it is so much less a thing of chance 
than science or skill, eager players pass whole 
nights in marching and counter-marching their 
men and check-mating a successful adversary, 
supposing that at a certain point of the game 
they had determined upon making a particular 
move instead of the one which they actually 
did make. I have heard a story of two persons 
playing at back-gammon, one of whom was so 
enraged at losing his match at a particular point 
of the game, that he took the board and threw 
it out of the window. It fell upon the head of 



94 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

one of the passengers in the street, who came 
up to demand instant satisfaction for the affront 
and injury he had sustained. The losing game- 
ster only asked him if he understood back-gam- 
mon, and finding that he did, said, that if upon 
seeing the state of the game he did not excuse the 
extravagance of his conduct, he would give him 
any other satisfaction he wished for. The tables 
were accordingly brought and the situation of 
the two contending parties being explained, the 
gentleman put up his sword, and went away 
perfectly satisfied. — To return from this, which 
to some will seem a digression, and to others 
will serve as a confirmation of the doctrine I 
am insisting on. 

It is not then the value of the object, but 
the time and pains bestowed upon it, that de- 
termines the sense and degree of our loss. 
Many men set their minds only on trifles, and 
have not a compass of soul to take an interest 
in anything truly great and important beyond 
forms and minutiae. Such persons are really 
men of little minds, or may be complimented 
with the title of great children : — 

" Pleased with a feather, tickled with a straw." 

Larger objects elude their grasp, while they 
fasten eagerly on the light and insignificant. 
They fidget themselves and others to death with 
incessant anxiety about nothing. A part of their 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 95 

dress that is awry keeps them in a fever of rest- 
lessness and impatience ; they sit picking their 
teeth, or paring their nails, or stirring the fire, 
or brushing a speck of dirt off their coats, while 
the house or the world tumbling about their 
ears would not rouse them from their morbid 
insensibility. They cannot sit still on their 
chairs for their lives, though, if there were any- 
thing for them to do, they would become im- 
movable. Their nerves are as irritable as their 
imaginations are callous and inert. They are 
addicted to an inveterate habit of littleness and 
perversity, which rejects every other motive to 
action or object of contemplation but the daily, 
teasing, contemptible, familiar, favourite sources 
of uneasiness and dissatisfaction. When they 
are of a sanguine instead of a morbid tempera- 
ment, they become quidnuncs and virtuosos — 
collectors of caterpillars and odd volumes, 
makers of fishing-rods and curious in watch- 
chains. Will Wimble dabbled in this way, to 
his immortal honour. But many others have 
been less successful. There are those who build 
their fame on epigrams or epitaphs, and others 
who devote their lives to writing the Lord's 
Prayer in little. Some poets compose and sing 
their own verses. Which character would they 
have us think most highly of — the poet or the 
musician ? The Great is One. Some there are 
who feel more pride in sealing a letter with a 



96 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

head of Homer than ever that old blind bard 
did in reciting his Iliad. These raise a huge 
opinion of themselves out of nothing, as there 
are those who shrink from their own merits into 
the shade of unconquerable humility. I know 
one person at least, who would rather be the 
author of an unsuccessful farce than of a suc- 
cessful tragedy. Repeated mortification has 
produced an inverted ambition in his mind, 
and made failure the bitter test of desert. He 
cannot lift his drooping head to gaze on the 
gaudy crown of popularity placed within his 
reach, but casts a pensive, riveted look down- 
wards to the modest flowers which the multi- 
tude trample under their feet. If he had a 
piece likely to succeed, coming out under all 
advantages, he would damn it by some ill-timed, 
wilful jest, and lose the favour of the public, 
to preserve the sense of his personal identity. 
" Misfortune," Shakespear says, " brings a 
man acquainted with strange bed-fellows : " and 
it makes our thoughts traitors to ourselves. — 
It is a maxim with many — " Take care of the 
pence, and the pounds will take care of them- 
selves." Those only put it in practice suc- 
cessfully who think more of the pence than of 
the pounds. To such, a large sum is less than 
a small one. Great speculations, great returns 
are to them extravagant or imaginary : a few 
hundreds a year are something snug and com- 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 97 

fortable. Persons who have been used to a 
petty, huckstering way of life cannot enlarge 
their apprehensions to a notion of anything 
better- Instead of launching out into greater 
expense and liberality with the tide of fortune, 
they draw back with the fear of consequences, 
and think to succeed on a broader scale by dint 
of meanness and parsimony. My uncle Toby 
frequently caught Trim standing up behind 
his chair, when he had told him to be seated. 
What the corporal did out of respect, others 
would do out of servility. The menial cha- 
racter does not wear out in three or four genera- 
tions. You cannot keep some people out of the 
kitchen, merely because their grandfathers or 
grandmothers came out of it. A poor man and 
his wife walking along in the neighbourhood of 
Portland place, he said to her peevishly, " What 
is the use of walking alongr these fine streets 
and squares ? Let us turn down some alley ! " 
He felt he should be more at home there. 
Lamb said of an old acquaintance of his, that 
when he was young, he wanted to be a tailor, 
but had not spirit ! This is the misery of unequal 
matches. The woman cannot easily forget, or 
think that others forget, her origin ; and with 
perhaps superior sense and beauty, keeps pain- 
fully in the background. It is worse when she 
braves this conscious feeling, and displays all 
the insolence of the upstart and affected fine 

H 



98 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

lady. But should thou ever, my Infelice, grace 
my home with thy loved presence, as thou hast 
cheered my hopes with thy smile, thou wilt 
conquer all hearts with thy prevailing gentle- 
ness, and I will show the world what Shake- 
spear's women were ! — Some gallants set their 
hearts on princesses ; others descend in imagina- 
tion to women of quality ; others are mad after 
opera-singers. For my part, I am shy even of 
actresses, and should not think of leaving my 
card with Madame Vestris. I am for none of 
these bonnes fortunes ; but for a list of humble 
beauties, servant maids and shepherd girls, with 
their red elbows, hard hands, black stockings 
and mob-caps, I could furnish out a gallery 
equal to Cowley's, and paint them half as well. 
Oh ! might I but attempt a description of some 
of them in poetic prose, Don Juan would forget 
his Julia, and Mr Davison might both print 
and publish this volume. I agree so far with 
Horace, and differ with Montaigne. I admire 
the Clementinas and Clarissas at a distance : 
the Pamelas and Fannys of Richardson and 
Fielding make my blood tingle. I have 
written love-letters to such in my time, st d'un 
pathetique a faire fendre les rochers," and with 
about as much effect as if they had been ad- 
dressed to stone. The simpletons only laughed, 
and said, that " those were not the sort of 
things to gain the affections." I wish I had 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 99 

kept copies in my own justification. What is 
worse, I have an utter aversion to blue-stockings. 
I do not care a fig for any woman that knows 
even what an author means. If I know that she 
has read anything I have written, I cut her ac- 
quaintance immediately. This sort of literary 
intercourse with me passes for nothing. Her 
critical and scientific acquirements are carrying 
coals to Newcastle. I do not want to be told 
that I have published such or such a work. I 
knew all this before. It makes no addition to 
my sense of power. I do not wish the affair to 
be brought about in that way. I would have 
her read my soul : she should understand the 
language of the heart : she should know what 
I am, as if she were another self! She should 
love me for myself alone. I like myself without 
any reason : — I would have her do so too. This 
is not very reasonable. I abstract from my 
temptations to admire all the circumstances of 
dress, birth, breeding, fortune ; and I would 
not willingly put forward my own pretensions, 
whatever they may be. The image of some 
fair creature is engraven on my inmost soul; 
it is on that I build my claim to her regard, 
and expect her to see into my heart, as I see 
her form always before me. Wherever she 
treads, pale primroses, like her face, vernal 
hyacinths, like her brow, spring up beneath her 
feet, and music hangs on every bough : but all 



100 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

is cold, barren, and desolate without her. Thus 
I feel and thus I think. But have I ever told 
her so ? No. Or if I did, would she under- 
stand it? No. I " hunt the wind, I worship 
a statue, cry aloud to the desert." To see 
beauty is not to be beautiful, to pine in love is 
not to be loved again. — I always was inclined 
to raise and magnify the power of love. I 
thought that his sweet power should only be 
exerted to join together the loveliest forms and 
fondest hearts; that none but those in whom 
his Godhead shone outwardly, and was inly felt, 
should ever partake of his triumphs ; and I 
stood and gazed at a distance, as unworthy to 
mingle in so bright a throng, and did not (even 
for a moment) wish to tarnish the glory of so 
fair a vision by being myself admitted into it. 
I say this was my notion once, but God knows 
it was one of the errors of my youth. For coming 
nearer to look, I saw the maimed, the blind, 
and the halt enter in, the crooked and the 
dwarf, the ugly, the old and impotent, the 
man of pleasure and the man of the world, the 
dapper and the pert, the vain and shallow 
boaster, the fool and the pedant, the ignorant 
and brutal, and all that is farthest removed from 
earth's fairest-born, and the pride of human 
life. Seeing all these enter the courts of Love, 
and thinking that I also might venture in under 
favour of the crowd, but finding myself rejected, 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 101 

I fancied (I might be wrong) that it was not so 
much because I was below, as above the com- 
mon standard. I did feel, but I was ashamed 
to feel, mortified at my repulse, when I saw the 
meanest of mankind, the very scum and refuse, 
all creeping things and every obscene creature, 
enter in before me. I seemed a species by my- 
self. I took a pride even in my disgrace : 
and concluded I had elsewhere my inheritance ! 
The only thing I ever piqued myself upon was 
the writing the 6 Essay on the Principles of 
Human Action ' — a work that no woman ever 
read, or would ever comprehend the meaning 
of. But if I do not build my claim to regard 
on the pretensions I have, how can I build it 
on those I am totally without? Or why do I 
complain and expect to gather grapes of thorns^ 
or figs of thistles ? Thought has in me can- 
celled pleasure; and this dark forehead, bent 
upon truth, is the rock on which all affection 
has split. And thus I waste my life in one 
long sigh ; nor ever (till too late) beheld a 
gentle face turned gently upon mine ! . 
But no ! not too late, if that face, pure, modest, 
downcast, tender, with angel sweetness, not 
only gladdens the prospect of the future, but 
sheds its radiance on the past, smiling in tears. 
A purple light hovers round my head. The 
air of love is in the room. As I look at my 
long-neglected copy of the * Death of Clorinda/ 



102 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

golden gleams play upon the canvas, as they 
used when I painted it. The flowers of Hope 
and J oy springing up in my mind, recal the time 
when they first bloomed there. The years that 
are fled knock at the door and enter. I am in 
the Louvre once more. The sun of Austerlitz 
has not set. It still shines here — in my heart ; 
and he, the son of glory, is not dead, nor ever 
shall be, to me. I am as when my life began. 
The rainbow is in the sky again. I see the 
skirts of the departed years. All that I have 
thought and felt has not been in vain. I am 
not utterly worthless, unregarded ; nor shall I 
die and wither of pure scorn. Now could I 
sit on the tomb of Liberty, and write a Hymn 
to Love. Oh ! if I am deceived, let me be de- 
ceived still. Let me live in the Elysium of 
those soft looks ; poison me with kisses, kill 
me with smiles ; but still mock me with thy 
love ! * 

Poets chuse mistresses who have the fewest 
charms, that they may make something out of 
nothing. They succeed best in fiction, and they 
apply this rule to love. They make a Goddess 
of any dowdy. As Don Quixote said, in 
answer to the matter-of-fact remonstrances of 
Sancho, that Dulcinea del Toboso answered the 

* I beg the reader to consider this passage merely as a 
specimen of the mock heroic style, and as having nothing 
to do with any real facts or feelings. 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 103 

purpose of signalising his valour just as well as 
the " fairest princess under sky/' so any of the 
fair sex will serve them to write about just as 
well as another. They take some awkward 
thing and dress her up in fine words, as children 
dress up a wooden doll in fine clothes. Per- 
haps, a fine head of hair, a taper waist, or some 
other circumstance strikes them, and they make 
the rest out according to their fancies. They have 
a wonderful knack of supplying deficiencies in 
the subjects of their idolatry out of the store- 
house of their imaginations. They presently 
translate their favourites to the skies, where 
they figure with Berenice's locks and Ariadne's 
crown. This predilection, for the unprepossess- 
ing and insignificant, I take to arise not merely 
from a desire in poets to have some subject 
to exercise their inventive talents upon, but 
from their jealousy of any pretensions (even 
those of beauty in the other sex) that might 
interfere with the continual incense offered to 
their personal vanity. 

Cardinal Mazarin never thought anything of 
Cardinal de Retz, after he told him that he 
had written for the last thirty years of his life 
with the same pen. Some Italian poet going 
to present a copy of verses to the Pope, and 
finding, as he was looking them over in the 
coach as he went, a mistake of a single letter 
in the printing, broke his heart of vexation 



104 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

and chagrin. A still more remarkable case of 
literary disappointment occurs in the history of 
a countryman of his, which I cannot refrain 
from giving here, as I find it related. " An- 
thony Codrus Urceus, a most learned and un- 
fortunate Italian, born near Modena, 1446, was 
a striking instance," says his biographer, "of 
the miseries men bring upon themselves by set- 
ting their affections unreasonably on trifles. 
This learned man lived at Forli, and had an 
apartment in the palace. His room was so very 
dark, that he was forced to use a candle in the 
day-time ; and one day, going abroad without 
putting it out, his library was set on fire, and 
some papers which he had prepared for the 
press were burned. The instant he was in- 
formed of this ill news, he was affected even to 
madness. He ran furiously to the palace, and 
stopping at the door of his apartment, he cried 
aloud, 6 Christ Jesus ! what mighty crime have 
I committed ! whom of your followers have I 
ever injured, that you thus rage with inexpiable 
hatred against me ? ' Then turning himself to 
an image of the Virgin Mary near at hand, 
< Virgin (says he) hear what I have to say, for 
I speak in earnest, and with a composed spirit : 
if I shall happen to address you in my dying 
moments, I humbly entreat you not to hear me, 
nor receive me into Heaven, for I am determined 
to spend all eternity in Hell ! ' Those who heard 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 105 



these blasphemous expressions endeavoured to 
comfort him ; but all to no purpose, for the 
society of mankind being no longer supportable 
to him, he left the city, and retired, like a 
savage, to the deep solitude of a wood. Some 
say that he was murdered there by ruffians : 
others, that he died at Bologna in 1500, after 
much contrition and penitence." 

Perhaps the censure passed at the outset of 
the anecdote on this unfortunate person is un- 
founded and severe, when it is said that he 
brought his miseries on himself "by having 
set his affections unreasonably on trifles." To 
others it might appear so ; but to himself the 
labour of a whole life was hardly a trifle. His 
passion was not a causeless one, though carried 
to such frantic excess. The story of Sir Isaac 
Newton presents a strong contrast to the last- 
mentioned one, who on going into his study 
and finding that his dog Tray had thrown down 
a candle on the table, and burnt some papers of 
great value, contented himself with exclaiming, 
u Ah ! Tray, you don't know the mischief you 
have done ! " Many persons would not forgive 
the overturning a cup of chocolate so soon. 

I remember hearing an instance some years 
ago of a man of character and property who 
through unexpected losses had been condemned 
to a long and heart-breaking imprisonment, 
which he bore with exemplary fortitude. At 



10(3 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

the end of four years, by the interest and ex- 
ertions of friends, he obtained his discharge 
with every prospect of beginning the world 
afresh, and had made his arrangements for 
leaving his irksome abode, and meeting his wife 
and family, at a distance of two hundred miles, 
by a certain day. Owing to the miscarriage of 
a letter, some signature necessary to the com- 
pletion of the business did not arrive in time, 
and on account of the informality which had thus 
arisen, he could not set out home till the return 
of the post, which was four days longer. His 
spirit could not brook the delay. He had wound 
himself up to the last pitch of expectation ; he 
had, as it were, calculated his patience to hold 
out to a certain point, and then to throw down 
his load for ever, and he could not find resolu- 
tion to resume it for a few hours beyond this. 
He put an end to the intolerable conflict of hope 
and disappointment in a fit of excruciating 
anguish. Woes that we have time to foresee 
and leisure to contemplate break their force by 
being spread over a larger surface, and borne at 
intervals; but those that come upon us sud- 
denly, for however short a time, seem to insult 
us by their unnecessary and uncalled-for in- 
trusion ; and the very prospect of relief, when 
held out and then withdrawn from us, to how- 
ever small a distance, only frets impatience into 
agony by tantalising our hopes and wishes; 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 107 



and to rend asunder the thin partition that 
separates us from our favourite object, we are 
ready to burst even the fetters of life itself. 

I am not aware that any one has demonstrated 
how it is that a stronger capacity is required 
for the conduct of great affairs than of small 
ones. The organs of the mind, like the pupil 
of the eye, may be contracted or dilated to 
view a broader or a narrower surface, and yet 
find sufficient variety to occupy its attention in 
each. The material universe is infinitely divi- 
sible, and so is the texture of human affairs. 
We take things in the gross or in the detail, 
according to the occasion. I think I could as 
soon get up the budget of Ways and Means 
for the current year, as be sure of making both 
ends meet, and paying my rent at quarter-day 
in a paltry huckster's shop. Great objects 
move on by their own weight and impulse: 
great power turns aside petty obstacles ; and 
he who wields it is often but the puppet of cir- 
cumstances, like the fly on the wheel that said, 
" What a dust we raise ! " It is easier to ruin 
a kingdom, and aggrandise one's own pride and 
prejudices, than to set up a green-grocer's stall. 
An idiot or a madman may do this at any time, 
whose word is law, and whose nod is fate. Nay, 
he whose look is obedience, and who under- 
stands the silent wishes of the great, may easily 
trample on the necks, and tread out the liberties 



108 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

of a mighty nation, deriding their strength, and 
hating it the more from a consciousness of his 
own meanness. Power is not wisdom, it is true ; 
but it equally ensures its own objects. It does 
not exact, but dispenses with talent. When a 
man creates this power, or new-moulds the state 
by sage counsels and bold enterprises, it is a 
different thing from overturning it with the 
levers that are put into his baby hands. In 
general, however, it may be argued that great 
transactions and complicated concerns ask more 
genius to conduct them than smaller ones, for 
this reason, viz., that the mind must be able 
either to embrace a greater variety of details in 
a more extensive range of objects, or must have 
a greater faculty of generalising, or a greater 
depth of insight into ruling principles, and so 
come at true results in that way. Buonaparte 
knew everything, even to the names of our 
cadets in the East-India service ; but he failed 
in this, that he did not calculate the resistance 
which barbarism makes to refinement. He 
thought that the Russians could not burn 
Moscow, because the Parisians could not burn 
Paris. The French think everything must be 
French. The Cossacks, alas ! do not conform 
to etiquette : the rudeness of the seasons knows 
no rules of politeness ! — Some artists think it a 
test of genius to paint a large picture, and I 
grant the truth of this position, if the large 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 109 

picture contains more than a small one. It is 
not the size of the canvas, but the quantity of 
truth and nature put into it, that settles the 
point. It is a mistake, common enough on this 
subject, to suppose that a miniature is more 
finished than an oil-picture. The miniature is 
inferior to the oil-picture only because it is less 
finished, because it cannot follow nature into 
so many individual and exact particulars. The 
proof of which is, that the copy of a good por- 
trait will always make a highly-finished minia- 
ture (see for example Mr Bone's enamels), 
whereas the copy of a good miniature, if en- 
larged to the size of life, will make but a very 
sorry portrait. Several of our best artists, who 
are fond of painting large figures, invert this 
reasoning. They make the whole figure gigan- 
tic, not that they may have room for nature, but 
for the motion of their brush (as if they were 
painting the side of a house), regarding the 
extent of canvas they have to cover as an ex- 
cuse for their slovenly and hasty manner of 
getting over it; and thus, in fact, leave their 
pictures nothing at last but over-grown minia- 
tures, but huge caricatures. It is not necessary 
in any case (either in a larger or a smaller com- 
pass) to go into the details, so as to lose sight 
of the effect, and decompound the face into 
porous and transparent molecules, in the manner 
of Denner, who painted what he saw through a 



110 ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. 

magnifying glass. The painter's eye need not 
be a microscope, but I contend that it should 
be a looking-glass, bright, clear, lucid. The 
little in art begins with insignificant parts, with 
what does not tell in connection with other 
parts. The true artist will paint not material 
points, but moral quantities. In a word, wherever 
there is feeling or expression in a muscle or a 
vein, there is grandeur and refinement too. — I 
will conclude these remarks with an account of 
the manner in which the ancient sculptors com- 
bined great and little things in such matters. 
" That the name of Phidias," says Pliny, " is 
illustrious among all the nations that have heard 
of the fame of the Olympian Jupiter, no one 
doubts ; but in order that those may know that 
he is deservedly praised who have not even seen 
his works, we shall offer a few arguments, and 
those of his genius only : nor to this purpose 
shall we insist on the beauty of the Olympian 
Jupiter, nor on the magnitude of the Minerva 
at Athens, though it is twenty-six cubits in 
height (about thirty-five feet), and is made of 
ivory and gold : but we shall refer to the shield, 
on which the battle of the Amazons is carved 
on the outer side : on the inside of the same is 
the fight of the Gods and Giants; and on the 
sandals, that between the Centaurs and Lapithae ; 
so well did every part of that work display the 
powers of the art. Again, the sculptures on the 



ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS. Ill 



pedestal he called the birth of Pandora : there 
are to be seen in number thirty Gods, the 
figure of Victory being particularly admirable : 
the learned also admire the figures of the ser- 
pent and the brazen sphinx, writhing under the 
spear. These things are mentioned, in passing, 
of an artist never enough to be commended, 
that it may be seen that he showed the same 
magnificence even in small things." — 6 Pliny's 
Natural History/ Book 36. 



ESSAY V. 

ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



It is not easy to write a familiar style. Many 
people mistake a familiar for a vulgar style, 
and suppose that to write without affectation is 
to write at random. On the contrary, there is 
nothing that requires more precision, and, if I 
may so say, purity of expression, than the style 
I am speaking of. It utterly rejects not only 
all unmeaning pomp, but all low, cant phrases, 
and loose, unconnected, slipshod allusions. It 
is not to take the first word that offers, but the 
best word in common use ; it is not to throw 
words together in any combinations we please, 
but to follow and avail ourselves of the true 
idiom of the language. To write a genuine 
familiar or truly English style, is to write as 
any one would speak in common conversation, 
who had a thorough command and choice of 
words, or who could discourse with ease, force, 
and perspicuity, setting aside all pedantic and 
oratorical flourishes. Or to give another illus- 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 113 

tration, to write naturally is the same thing in 
regard to common conversation, as to read na- 
turally is in regard to common speech. It does 
not follow that it is an easy thing to give the 
true accent and inflection to the words you 
utter, because you do not attempt to rise above 
the level of ordinary life and colloquial speak- 
ing. You do not assume indeed the solemnity 
of the pulpit, or the tone of stage-declamation : 
neither are you at liberty to gabble on at a 
venture, without emphasis or discretion, or to 
resort to vulgar dialect or clownish pronuncia- 
tion. You must steer a middle course. You 
are tied down to a given and appropriate articu- 
lation, which is determined by the habitual as- 
sociations between sense and sound, and which 
you can only hit by entering into the author's 
meaning, as you must find the proper words and 
style to express yourself by fixing your thoughts 
on the subject you have to write about. Any 
one may mouth out a passage with a theatrical 
cadence, or get upon stilts to tell his thoughts : 
but to write or speak with propriety and sim- 
plicity is a more difficult task. Thus it is easy 
to affect a pompous style, to use a word twice 
as big as the thing you want to express : it is 
not so easy to pitch upon the very word that 
exactly fits it. Out of eight or ten words equally 
common, equally intelligible, with nearly equal 
pretensions, it is a matter of some nicety and 

i 



114 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



discrimination to pick out the very one, the 
preferableness of which is scarcely perceptible, 
but decisive. The reason why I object to Dr 
J ohnson's style is, that there is no discrimina- 
tion, no selection, no variety in it. He uses 
none but " tall, opaque words/' taken from the 
" first row of the rubric t" — words with the 
greatest number of syllables, or Latin phrases 
with merely English terminations. If a fine 
style depended on this sort of arbitrary pre- 
tension, it would be fair to judge of an author's 
elegance by the measurement of his words, 
and the substitution of foreign circumlocutions 
(with no precise associations) for the mother- 
tongue.* How simple is it to be dignified 
without ease, to be pompous without meaning ! 
Surely it is but a mechanical rule for avoiding 
what is low to be always pedantic and affected. 
It is clear you cannot use a vulgar English 
word, if you never use a common English word 
at all. A fine tact is shown in adhering to those 
which are perfectly common, and yet never 
falling into any expressions which are debased 
by disgusting circumstances, or which owe their 
signification and point to technical or pro- 

* I have heard of such a thing as an author, who 
makes it a rule never to admit a monosyllable into his 
vapid verse. Yet the charm and sweetness of Marlow's 
lines depended often on their being made up almost en. 
tirely of monosyllables. 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



115 



fessional allusions. A truly natural or familiar 
style can never be quaint or vulgar, for this 
reason, that it is of universal force and ap- 
plicability, and that quaintness and vulgarity 
arises out of the immediate connexion of certain 
words with coarse and disagreeable, or with 
confined ideas. The last form what we under- 
stand by cant or slang phrases. — To give an 
example of what is not very clear in the general 
statement. I should say that the phrase 6 To 
cut with a knife/ or ( To cut a piece of wood/ is 
perfectly free from vulgarity, because it is per- 
fectly common : but to cut an acquaintance is 
not quite unexceptionable, because it is not 
perfectly common or intelligible, and has hardly 
yet escaped out of the limits of slang phraseology, 
I should hardly therefore use the word in this 
sense without putting it in italics as a licence 
of expression, to be received cum grano sails. 
All provincial or bye-phrases come under the 
same mark of reprobation — all such as the writer 
transfers to the page from his fire -side or a par- 
ticular coterie, or that he invents for his own 
sole use and convenience. I conceive that 
words are like money, not the worse for being 
common, but that it is the stamp of custom 
alone that gives them circulation or value. I 
am fastidious in this respect, and would almost 
as soon coin the currency of the realm as 
counterfeit the King's English. I never in- 



116 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



vented or gave a new and unauthorised mean- 
ing to any word but one single one (the term 
impersonal applied to feelings), and that was in 
an abstruse metaphysical discussion to express 
a very difficult distinction. I have been (I 
know) loudly accused of revelling in vulgarisms 
and broken English. I cannot speak to that 
point : but so far I plead guilty to the deter- 
mined use of acknowledged idioms and common 
elliptical expressions. I am not sure that the 
critics in question know the one from the other, 
that is, can distinguish any medium between 
formal pedantry and the most barbarous sole- 
cism. As an author, I endeavour to employ 
plain words and popular modes of construction, 
as, were I a chapman and dealer, I should com- 
mon weights and measures. 

The proper force of words lies not in the 
words themselves, but in their application. A 
word may be a fine-sounding word, of an un- 
usual length, and very imposing from its learn- 
ing and novelty, and yet in the connexion in 
which it is introduced, may be quite pointless 
and irrelevant. It is not pomp or pretension, 
but the adaptation of the expression to the idea 
that clenches a writer's meaning : — as it is not 
the size or glossiness of the materials, but their 
being fitted each to its place, that gives strength 
to the arch ; or as the pegs and nails are as 
necessary to the support of the building as the 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



117 



larger timbers, and more so than the mere 
showy, unsubstantial ornaments. I hate any- 
thing that occupies more space than it is worth. 
I hate to see a load of band-boxes go along the 
street, and I hate to see a parcel of big words 
without anything in them. A person who 
does not deliberately dispose of all his thoughts 
alike in cumbrous draperies and flimsy dis- 
guises, may strike out twenty varieties of fa- 
miliar every-day language, each coming some- 
what nearer to the feeling he wants to convey, 
and at last not hit upon that particular and only 
one, which may be said to be identical with the 
exact impression in his mind. This would seem 
to show that Mr Cobbett is hardly right in say- 
ing that the first word that occurs is always the 
best. It may be a very good one ; and yet a 
better may present itself on reflection or from 
time to time. It should be suggested naturally, 
however, and spontaneously, from a fresh and 
lively conception of the subject. We seldom 
succeed by trying at improvement, or by merely 
substituting one word for another that we are 
not satisfied with, as we cannot recollect the 
name of a place or person by merely plaguing 
ourselves about it. We wander farther from 
the point by persisting in a wrong scent; but it 
starts up accidentally in the memory when we 
least expected it, by touching some link in the 
chain of previous association. 



118 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



There are those who hoard up and make a 
cautious display of nothing but rich and rare 
phraseology ; — ancient medals, obscure coins, 
and Spanish pieces of eight. They are very 
curious to inspect ; but I myself would neither 
offer nor take them in the course of exchange. 
A sprinkling of archaisms is not amiss ; but a 
tissue of obsolete expressions is more fit for 
keep than wear. I do not say I would not use any 
phrase that had been brought into fashion before 
the middle or the end of the last century ; but 
I should be shy of using any that had not been 
employed by any approved author during the 
whole of that time. Words, like clothes, get 
old-fashioned, or mean and ridiculous, when 
they have been for some time laid aside. Mr 
Lamb is the only imitator of old English style 
I can read with pleasure : and he is so thoroughly 
imbued with the spirit of his authors, that the 
idea of imitation is almost done away. There 
is an inward unction, a marrowy vein both in 
the thought and feeling, an intuition, deep and 
lively, of his subject, that carries off any quaint- 
ness or awkwardness arising from an antiquated 
style and dress. The matter is completely his 
own, though the manner is assumed. Perhaps 
his ideas are altogether so marked and in- 
dividual, as to require their point and pun- 
gency to be neutralised by the affectation of 
a singular but traditional form of conveyance. 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



119 



Tricked out in the prevailing costume, they 
would probably seem more startling and out of the 
way. The old English authors, Burton, Fuller, 
Coryate, Sir Thomas Brown, are a kind of me- 
diators between us and the more eccentric and 
whimsical modern, reconciling us to his pe- 
culiarities. I do not however know how far 
this is the case or not, till he condescends to 
write like one of us. I must confess that what 
I like best of his papers under the signature of 
Elia (still I do not presume, amidst such excel- 
lence, to decide what is most excellent) is the 
account of Mrs Battle's ' Opinions on Whist,' 
which is also the most free from obsolete allu- 
sions and turns of expression — 

" A well of native English undefiled." 

To those acquainted with his admired proto- 
types, these Essays of the ingenious and highly 
gifted author have the same sort of charm 
and relish, that Erasmus's Colloquies or a fine 
piece of modern Latin have to the classical 
scholar. Certainly, I do not know any borrowed 
pencil that has more power or felicity of execu- 
tion than the one of which I have here been 
speaking. 

It is as easy to write a gaudy style without 
ideas, as it is to spread a pallet of showy colours, 
or to smear in a flaunting transparency. " What 
do you read ? " — " Words, words, words." — 



120 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



" What is the matter ? "— " Nothing/' it might 
be answered. The florid style is the reverse of 
the familiar. The last is employed as an un- 
varnished medium to convey ideas ; the first is 
resorted to as a spangled veil to conceal the 
want of them. When there is nothing to be 
set down but words, it costs little to have them 
fine. Look through the dictionary, and cull 
out ajlorilegium, rival the tulippomania. Rouge 
high enough, and never mind the natural com- 
plexion. The vulgar, who are not in the secret, 
will admire the look of preternatural health and 
vigour; and the fashionable, who regard only 
appearances, will be delighted with the im- 
position. Keep to your sounding generalities, 
your tinkling phrases, and all will be well. 
Swell out an unmeaning truism to a perfect 
tympany of style. A thought, a distinction 
is the rock on which all this brittle cargo of 
verbiage splits at once. Such writers have 
merely verbal imaginations, that retain nothing 
but words. Or their puny thoughts have dragon- 
wings, all green and gold. They soar far above 
the vulgar failing of the Sertno humi obrepens — 
their most ordinary speech is never short of an 
hyperbole, splendid, imposing, vague, incom- 
prehensible, magniloquent, a cento of sounding 
common-places. If some of us, whose "ambition 
is more lowly," pry a little too narrowly into 
nooks and corners to pick up a number of 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



121 



" unconsidered trifles/' they never once direct 
their eyes or lift their hands to seize on any 
but the most gorgeous, tarnished, thread-bare, 
patch-work set of phrases, the left-off finery of 
poetic extravagance, transmitted down through 
successive generations of barren pretenders. If 
they criticise actors and actresses, a huddled 
phantasmagoria of feathers, spangles, floods of 
light, and oceans of sound float before their 
morbid sense, which they paint in the style of 
Ancient Pistol. Not a glimpse can you get of 
the merits or defects of the performers : they 
are hidden in a profusion of barbarous epi- 
thets and wilful rhodomontade. Our hyper- 
critics are not thinking of these little fantoccini 
beings — 

" That strut and fret their hour upon the stage " — 

but of tall phantoms of words, abstractions, 
genera and species, sweeping clauses, periods that 
unite the Poles, forced alliterations, astounding 
antitheses — 

" And on their pens Fustian sits plumed." 

If they describe kings and queens, it is an 
Eastern pageant. The Coronation at either 
House is nothing to it. We get at four re- 
peated images — a curtain, a throne, a sceptre, 
and a foot-stool. These are with them the 
wardrobe of a lofty imagination ; and they turn 



122 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



their servile strains to servile uses. Do we read 
a description of pictures ? It is not a reflection 
of tones and hues which " nature's own sweet 
and cunning hand laid on," but piles of precious 
stones, rubies, pearls, emeralds, Golconda's 
mines, and all the blazonry of art. Such per- 
sons are in fact besotted with words, and their 
brains are turned with the glittering, but empty 
and sterile phantoms of things. Personifications, 
capital letters, seas of sunbeams, visions of 
glory, shining inscriptions, the figures of a 
transparency, Britannia with her shield, or Hope 
leaning on an anchor, make up their stock in 
trade. They may be considered as hiero- 
glyphical writers. Images stand out in their 
minds isolated and important merely in them- 
selves, without any ground-work of feeling 
— there is no context in their imaginations. 
Words affect them in the same way, by the 
mere sound, that is, by their possible, not by 
their actual application to the subject in hand. 
They are fascinated by first appearances, and 
have no sense of consequences. Nothing more 
is meant by them than meets the ear : they 
understand or feel nothing more than meets 
their eye. The web and texture of the uni- 
verse, and of the heart of man, is a mystery 
to them : they have no faculty that strikes a 
chord in unison with it. They cannot get be- 
yond the daubings of fancy, the varnish of 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



123 



sentiment. Objects are not linked to feelings, 
words to things, but images revolve in splendid 
mockery, words represent themselves in their 
strange rhapsodies. The categories of such a 
mind are pride and ignorance — pride in outside 
show, to which they sacrifice everything, and 
ignorance of the true worth and hidden struc- 
ture both of words and things. With a sovereign 
contempt for what is familiar and natural, they 
are the slaves of vulgar affectation — of a routine 
of high-flown phrases. Scorning to imitate 
realities, they are unable to invent anything, 
to strike out one original idea. They are not 
copyists of nature, it is true i but they are the 
poorest of all plagiarists, the plagiarists of 
words. All is far-fetched, dear-bought, arti- 
ficial, oriental, in subject and allusion : all is 
mechanical, conventional, vapid, formal, pe- 
dantic in style and execution. They startle 
and confound the understanding of the reader, 
by the remoteness and obscurity of their illus- 
trations : they soothe the ear by the monotony 
of the same everlasting round of circuitous 
metaphors. They are the mock-school in 
poetry and prose. They flounder about be- 
tween fustian in expression, and bathos in sen- 
timent. They tantalise the fancy, but never 
reach the head nor touch the heart. Their 
Temple of Fame is like a shadowy structure 



124 



ON FAMILIAR STYLE. 



raised by Dulness to Vanity, or like Cow- 
per's description of the Empress of Russia's 
palace of ice, " as worthless as in show 'twas 
glittering " — 

" It smiled, and it was cold ! " 



ESSAY VI. 

ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 



Effeminacy of character arises from a pre- 
valence of the sensibility over the will : or it 
consists in a want of fortitude to bear pain or 
to undergo fatigue, however urgent the oc- 
casion. We meet with instances of people who 
cannot lift up a little finger to save themselves 
from ruin, nor give up the smallest indulgence 
for the sake of any other person. They cannot 
put themselves out of their way on any account. 
No one makes a greater outcry when the day 
of reckoning comes, or affects greater com- 
passion for the mischiefs they have occasioned ; 
but till the time comes, they feel nothing, they 
care for nothing. They live in the present 
moment, are the creatures of the present im- 
pulse (whatever it may be) — and beyond that, 
the universe is nothing to them. The slightest 
toy countervails the empire of the world ; they 
will not forego the smallest inclination they feel, 



126 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 



for any object that can be proposed to them, or 
any reasons that can be urged for it. You 
might as well ask of the gossamer not to wanton 
in the idle summer air, or of the moth not to 
play with the flame that scorches it, as ask of 
these persons to put off any enjoyment for a 
single instant, or to gird themselves up to any 
enterprise of pith or moment. They have been 
so used to a studied succession of agreeable 
sensations, that the shortest pause is a privation 
which they can by no means endure — it is like 
tearing them from their very existence — they 
have been so inured to ease and indolence, that 
the most trifling effort is like one of the tasks 
of Hercules, a thing of impossibility, at which 
they shudder. They lie on beds of roses, and 
spread their gauze wings to the sun and sum- 
mer gale, and cannot bear to put their tender 
feet to the ground, much less to encounter 
the thorns and briers of the world. Life for 
them 

" rolls o'er Elysian flowers its amber stream " — 

and they have no fancy for fishing in troubled 
waters. The ordinary state of existence they 
regard as something importunate and vain, and 
out of nature. What must they think of its 
trials and sharp vicissitudes ? Instead of volun- 
tarily embracing pain, or labour, or danger, or 
death, every sensation must be wound up to 



ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 127 



the highest pitch of voluptuous refinement, 
every motion must be grace and elegance ; they 
live in a luxurious, endless dream, or 

" Die of a rose in aromatic pain ! " 

Siren sounds must float around them ; smiling 
forms must everywhere meet their sight ; they 
must tread a soft measure on painted carpets 
or smooth-shaven lawns ; books, arts, jests, 
laughter, occupy every thought and hour — 
what have they to do with the drudgery, the 
struggles, the poverty, the disease or anguish, 
which are the common lot of humanity! These 
things are intolerable to them, even in imagina- 
tion. They disturb the enchantment in which 
they are lapt. They cause a wrinkle in the 
clear and polished surface of their existence. 
They exclaim with impatience and in agony, 
" Oh, leave me to my repose ! " How " they 
shall discourse the freezing hours away, when 
wind and rain beat dark December down," or 
" bide the pelting of the pitiless storm/' gives 
them no concern, it never once enters their 
heads. They close the shutters, draw the cur- 
tains, and enjoy or shut out the whistling of 
the approaching tempest. " They take no 
thought for the morrow/' not they. They do 
not anticipate evils. Let them come when they 
will come, they will not run to meet them. Nay 
more, they will not move one step to prevent 



128 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 

them, not let any one else. The mention of 
such things is shocking ; the very supposition 
is a nuisance that must not be tolerated. The 
idea of the trouble, the precautions, the ne- 
gotiations necessary to obviate disagreeable con- 
sequences oppresses them to death, is an exer- 
tion too great for their enervated imaginations. 
They are not like Master Barnardine in ' Mea- 
sure for Measure/ who would not " get up to 
be hanged " — they would not get up to avoid 
being hanged. They are completely wrapped 
up in themselves ; but then all their self-love is 
concentrated in the present minute. They have 
worked up their effeminate and fastidious ap- 
petite of enjoyment to such a pitch, that the 
whole of their existence, every moment of it, 
must be made up of these exquisite indulgences ; 
or they will fling it all away, with indifference 
and scorn. They stake their entire welfare on 
the gratification of the passing instant. Their 
senses, their vanity, their thoughtless gaiety 
have been pampered till they ache at the smallest 
suspension of their perpetual dose of excite- 
ment, and they will purchase the hollow happi- 
ness of the next five minutes, by a mortgage 
on the independence and comfort of years. 
They must have their will in everything, or 
they grow sullen and peevish, like spoiled 
children. Whatever they set their eyes on, 
or make up their minds to, they must have 



ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 129 

that instant. They may pay for it hereafter. 
But that is no matter. They snatch a joy be- 
yond the reach of fate, and consider the present 
time sacred, inviolable, unaccountable to that 
hard, churlish, niggard, inexorable task-master, 
the future. "Now or never" is their motto. 
They are madly devoted to the play-thing, 
the ruling passion of the moment. What is 
to happen to them a week hence is as if it were 
to happen to them a thousand years hence. 
They put off the consideration for another day, 
and their heedless unconcern laughs at it as a 
fable. Their life is " a cell of ignorance, travel- 
ling a-bed ; 99 their existence is ephemeral ; their 
thoughts are insect-winged, their identity expires 
with the whim, the folly, the passion of the hour. 

Nothing but a miracle can rouse such people 
from their lethargy. It is not to be expected, 
nor is it even possible in the natural course of 
things. Pope's striking exclamation, 

" Oh ! blindness to the future kindly given, 
That each may fill the circuit mark'd by Heaven ! " 

hardly applies here ; namely, to evils that stare 
us in the face, and that might be averted with 
the least prudence or resolution. But nothing 
can be done. How should it ? A slight evil, 
a distant danger will not move them ; and a 
more imminent one only makes them turn away 
from it in greater precipitation and alarm. 

K 



130 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 

The more desperate their affairs grow, the more 
averse they are to look into them ; and the 
greater the effort required to retrieve them, the 
more incapable they are of it. At first, they 
will not do anything ; and afterwards, it is too 
late. The very motives that imperiously urge 
them to self-reflection and amendment, combine 
with their natural disposition to prevent it. 
This amounts pretty nearly to a mathematical 
demonstration. Ease, vanity, pleasure, are the 
ruling passions in such cases. How will you 
conquer these, or wean their infatuated votaries 
from them ? By the dread of hardship, disgrace, 
pain ? They turn from them and you who point 
them out as the alternative, with sickly disgust ; 
and instead of a stronger effort of courage or 
self-denial to avert the crisis, hasten it by a 
wilful determination to pamper the disease in 
every way, and arm themselves, not with forti- 
tude to bear or to repel the consequences, but 
with judicial blindness to their approach. Will 
you rouse the indolent procrastinator to an irk- 
some but necessary effort, by showing him how 
much he has to do ? He will only draw back 
the more for all your intreaties and represen- 
tations. If of a sanguine turn, he will make 
a slight attempt at a new plan of life, be satisfied 
with the first appearance of reform, and relapse 
into indolence again. If timid and undecided, 
the hopelessness of the undertaking will put him 



ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 131 



out of heart with it, and he will stand still in 
despair. Will you save a vain man from ruin, 
by pointing out the obloquy and ridicule that 
await him in his present career ? He smiles at 
your forebodings as fantastical ; or the more 
they are realised around him, the more he is 
impelled to keep out the galling conviction, 
and the more fondly he clings to flattery and 
death. He will not make a bold and resolute 
attempt to recover his reputation, because that 
would imply that it was capable of being soiled 
or injured ; or he no sooner meditates some 
desultory project, than he takes credit to him- 
self for the execution, and is delighted to wear 
his unearned laurels while the thing is barely 
talked of. The chance of success relieves the 
uneasiness of his apprehensions; so that he 
makes use of the interval only to flatter his 
favourite infirmity again. Would you wean a 
man from sensual excesses by the inevitable 
consequences to which they lead ? — What holds 
more antipathy to pleasure than pain ? The 
mind given up to self-indulgence, revolts at 
suffering; and throws it from it as an unac- 
countable anomaly, as a piece of injustice when 
it comes. Much less will it acknowledge any 
affinity with or subjection to it as a mere threat. 
If the prediction does not immediately come 
true, we laugh at the prophet of ill : if it is 
verified, we hate our adviser proportionably, 



132 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 

hug our vices the closer, and hold them dearer 
and more precious, the more they cost us. We 
resent wholesome counsel as an impertinence, 
and consider those who warn us of impending 
mischief, as if they had brought it on our heads. 
We cry out with the poetical enthusiast — 

" And let us nurse the fond deceit ; 
And what if we must die in sorrow ? 
Who would not cherish dreams so sweet, 
Though grief and pain should come to-morrow ? " 

But oh thou ! who didst lend me speech when 
I was dumb, to whom I owe it that I have not 
crept on my belly all the days of my life like 
the serpent, but sometimes lift my forked crest 
or tread the empyrean, wake thou out of thy 
mid-day slumbers ! Shake off the heavy honey- 
dew of thy soul, no longer lulled with that Cir- 
cean cup, drinking thy own thoughts with thy 
own ears, but start up in thy promised likeness, 
and shake the pillared rottenness of the world ! 
Leave not thy sounding words in air, write 
them in marble, and teach the coming age 
heroic truths ! Up, and wake the echoes of 
Time ! Rich in deepest lore, die not the bed- 
rid churl of knowledge, leaving the survivors 
unblest ! Set, set as thou didst rise in pomp and 
gladness ! Dart like the sun-flower one broad, 
golden flash of light; and ere thou ascendest 
thy native sky, show us the steps by which 



ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 133 

thou didst scale the Heaven of philosophy, with 
Truth and Fancy for thy equal guides, that we 
may catch thy mantle, rainbow-dipped, and 
still read thy words dear to Memory, dearer to 
Fame ! 

There is another branch of this character, 
which is the trifling or dilatory character. Such 
persons are always creating difficulties, and 
unable or unwilling to remove them. They 
cannot brush aside a cobweb, and are stopped 
by an insect's wing. Their character is im- 
becility, rather than effeminacy. The want of 
energy and resolution in the persons last de- 
scribed, arises from the habitual and inveterate 
predominance of other feelings and motives ; in 
these it is a mere want of energy and resolu- 
tion, that is, an inherent natural defect of vigour 
of nerve and voluntary power. There is a 
specific levity about such persons, so that you 
cannot propel them to any object, or give them 
a decided momentum in any direction or pursuit. 
They turn back, as it were, on the occasion that 
should project them forward with manly force 
and vehemence. They shrink from intrepidity 
of purpose, and are alarmed at the idea of at- 
taining their end too soon. They will not act 
with steadiness or spirit, either for themselves 
or you. If you chalk out a line of conduct for 
them, or commission them to execute a certain 
task, they are sure to conjure up some insig- 



134 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 

nificant objection or fanciful impediment in the 
way, and are withheld from striking an effectual 
blow by mere feebleness of character. They 
may be officious, good-natured, friendly, ge- 
nerous in disposition, but they are of no use 
to any one. They will put themselves to twice 
the trouble you desire, not to carry your point, 
but to defeat it ; and in obviating needless ob- 
jections, neglect the main business. If they 
do what you want, it is neither at the time nor 
in the manner that you wish. This timidity 
amounts to treachery ; for by always anticipating 
some misfortune or disgrace, they realise their 
unmeaning apprehensions. The little bears 
sway in their minds over the great : a small 
inconvenience outweighs a solid and indis- 
pensable advantage ; and their strongest bias is 
uniformly derived from the weakest motive. 
They hesitate about the best way of beginning 
a thing till the opportunity for action is lost, 
and are less anxious about its being done than 
the precise manner of doing it. They will de- 
stroy a passage sooner than let an objectionable 
word pass ; and are much less concerned about 
the truth or the beauty of an image, than about 
the reception it will meet with from the critics. 
They alter what they write, not because it is, 
but because it may possibly be wrong ; and in 
their tremulous solicitude to avoid imaginary 
blunders, run into real ones. What is curious 



ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 135 



enough is, that with all this caution and delicacy, 
they are continually liable to extraordinary over- 
sights. They are in fact so full of all sorts of 
idle apprehensions, that they do not know how 
to distinguish real from imaginary grounds of 
apprehension ; and they often give some unac- 
countable offence either from assuming a sudden 
boldness half in sport, or while they are secretly 
pluming themselves on their dexterity in avoid- 
ing everything exceptionable : and the same 
distraction of motive and short-sightedness which 
gets them into scrapes, hinders them from seeing 
their way out of them. Such persons (often of 
ingenious and susceptible minds) are constantly 
at cross-purposes with themselves and others ; 
will neither do things nor let others do them ; 
and whether they succeed or fail, never feel 
confident or at their ease. They spoil the fresh- 
ness and originality of their own thoughts by 
asking contradictory advice; and in befriending 
others, while they are about it and about it, you 
might have done the thing yourself a dozen 
times over. 

There is nothing more to be esteemed than a 
manly firmness and decision of character. I 
like a person who knows his own mind and 
sticks to it ; who sees at once what is to be 
done in given circumstances and does it. He 
does not beat about the bush for difficulties or 



136 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 

excuses, but goes the shortest and most effectual 
way to work to attain his own ends, or to ac- 
complish a useful object. If he can serve you, 
he will do so ; if he cannot, he will say so with- 
out keeping you in needless suspense, or laying 
you under pretended obligations. The apply- 
ing to him in any laudable undertaking is not 
like stirring " a dish of skimmed milk." There 
is stuff in him, and it is of the right practicable 
sort. He is not all his life at hawk and buzzard 
whether he shall be a Whig or a Tory, a friend 
or a foe, a knave or a fool ; but thinks that life is 
short, and that there is no time to play fantastic 
tricks in it, to tamper with principles, or trifle 
with individual feelings. If he gives you a 
character, he does not add a damning clause to 
it : he does not pick holes in you lest others 
should, or anticipate objections lest he should 
be thought to be blinded by a childish partiality. 
His object is to serve you ; and not to play the 
game into your enemies' hands. 

a A generous friendship no cold medium knows, 
Burns with one love, with one resentment glows." 

I should be sorry for any one to say what he did 
not think of me ; but I should not be pleased to 
see him slink out of his acknowledged opinion, 
lest it should not be confirmed by malice or 
stupidity. He who is well acquainted and well 



ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 137 



inclined to you, ought to give the tone, not to 
receive it from others, and may set it to what 
key he pleases in certain cases. 

There are those of whom it has been said, 
that to them an obligation is a reason for not 
doing anything, and there are others who are 
invariably led to do the reverse of what they 
should. The last are perverse, the first im- 
practicable people. Opposed to the effeminate 
in disposition and manners are the coarse and 
brutal. As those were all softness and smooth- 
ness, these affect or are naturally attracted to 
whatever is vulgar and violent, harsh and re- 
pulsive in tone, in modes of speech, in forms of 
address, in gesture and behaviour. Thus there 
are some who ape the lisping of the fine lady, 
the drawling of the fine gentleman, and others 
who all their lives delight in and catch the 
uncouth dialect, the manners and expressions 
of clowns and hoydens. The last are governed 
by an instinct of the disagreeable, by an appetite 
and headlong rage for violating decorum, and 
hurting other people's feelings, their own being 
excited and enlivened by the shock. They 
deal in home truths, unpleasant reflections, and 
unwelcome matters of fact ; as the others are all 
compliment and complaisance, insincerity and 
insipidity. 

We may observe an effeminacy of style, in 
some degree corresponding to effeminacy of 



138 ON EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 

character. Writers of this stamp are great 
interliners of what they indite, alterers of in- 
different phrases, and the plague of printers' 
devils. By an effeminate style I would be 
understood to mean one that is all florid, all 
fine ; that cloys by its sweetness, and tires by 
its sameness. Such are what Dryden calls 
" calm, peaceable writers/' They only aim to 
please, and neveroffend by truth or disturb by 
singularity. Every thought must be beautiful 
per se, every expression equally fine. They do 
not delight in vulgarisms, but in common places, 
and dress out unmeaning forms in all the colours 
of the rainbow. They do not go out of their 
way to think — that would startle the indolence 
of the reader : they cannot express a trite thought 
in common words — that would be a sacrifice 
of their own vanity. They are not sparing of 
tinsel, for it costs nothing. Their works should 
be printed, as they generally are, on hot-pressed 
paper, with vignette margins. The Delia 
Cruscan school comes under this description, 
but is now nearly exploded. Lord Byron is a 
pampered and aristocratic writer, but he is not 
effeminate, or we should not have his works 
with only the printer's name to them ! I cannot 
help thinking that the fault of Mr Keats's 
poems was a deficiency in masculine energy of 
style. He had beauty, tenderness, delicacy, in 
an uncommon degree, but there was a want of 



OX EFFEMINACY OF CHARACTER. 139 



strength and substance. His Endymion is a 
very delightful description of the illusions of a 
youthful imagination, given up to airy dream9 — 
we have flowers, clouds, rainbows, moonlight, all 
sweet sounds and smells, and Oreads and Dryads 
flitting bv — but there is nothing tangible in it, 
nothing marked or palpable — we have none of 
the hardy spirit or rigid forms of antiquity. 
He painted his own thoughts and character ; 
and did not transport himself into the fabulous 
and heroic ages. There is a want of action, of 
character, and so far of imagination, but there 
is exquisite fancy. All is soft and fleshy, with- 
out bone or muscle. We see in him the youth, 
without the manhood of poetry. His genius 
breathed " vernal delight and joy." — " Like 
Maia's son he stood and shook his plumes," with 
fragrance filled. His mind was redolent of 
spring. He had not the fierceness of summer, 
nor the richness of autumn, and winter he 
seemed not to have known, till he felt the icy 
hand of death ! 



ESSAY VII. 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 



Distant objects please, because, in the first 
place, they imply an idea of space and magni- 
tude, and because, not being obtruded too close 
upon the eye, we clothe them with the in- 
distinct and airy colours of fancy. In looking 
at the misty mountain- tops that bound the 
horizon, the mind is as it were conscious of all 
the conceivable objects and interests that lie 
between ; we imagine all sorts of adventures in 
the interim ; strain our hopes and wishes to 
reach the air-drawn circle, or to " descry new 
lands, rivers, and mountains," stretching far 
beyond it: our feelings carried out of them- 
selves lose their grossness and their husk, 
are rarefied, expanded, melt into softness and 
brighten into beauty, turning to ethereal mould, 
sky-tinctured. We drink the air before us, 
and borrow a more refined existence from ob- 
jects that hover on the brink of nothing. Where 
the landscape fades from the dull sight, we fill 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 141 

the thin, viewless space with shapes of unknown 
good, and tinge the hazy prospect with hopes 
and w T ishes and more charming fears. 

"But thou, oh Hope ! with eyes so fair, 
What was thy delighted measure ? 
Still it whisper'd promised pleasure, 
And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail ! " 

Whatever is placed beyond the reach of sense 
and knowledge, whatever is imperfectly dis- 
cerned, the fancy pieces out at its leisure ; and 
all but the present moment, but the present 
spot, passion claims for its own, and brooding 
over it with wings outspread, stamps it with 
an image of itself. Passion is lord of infinite 
space, and distant objects please because they 
border on its confines, and are moulded by its 
touch. When I was a boy I lived within 
sight of a range of lofty hills, whose blue 
tops blending with the setting sun had often 
tempted my longing eyes and wandering feet. 
At last I put my project in execution, and 
on a nearer approach, instead of glimmering 
air woven into fantastic shapes, found them 
huge lumpish heaps of discoloured earth. I 
learnt from this (in part) to leave " Yarrow 
unvisited," and not idly to disturb a dream 
of good ! 

Distance of time has much the same effect 
as distance of place. It is not surprising that 



142 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 

fancy colours the prospect of the future as it 
thinks good, when it even effaces the forms of 
memory. Time takes out the sting of pain; 
our sorrows after a certain period have been 
so often steeped in a medium of thought and 
passion, that they " unmould their essence ; " 
and all that remains of our original impressions 
is what we would wish them to have been. Not 
only the untried steep ascent before us, but the 
rude, unsightly masses of our past experience 
presently resume their power of deception over 
the eye : the golden cloud soon rests upon their 
heads, and the purple light of fancy clothes 
their barren sides ! Thus we pass on, while 
both ends of our existence touch upon Heaven ! 
■ — There is (so to speak) u a mighty stream of 
tendency " to good in the human mind, upon 
which all objects float and are imperceptibly 
borne along: and though in the voyage of life 
we meet with strong rebuffs, with rocks and 
quicksands, yet there is " a tide in the affairs of 
men," a heaving and a restless aspiration of the 
soul, by means of which, " with sails and tackle 
torn," the wreck and scattered fragments of 
our entire being drift into the port and haven 
of our desires ! In all that relates to the af- 
fections, we put the will for the deed: — so that 
the instant the pressure of unwelcome circum- 
stances is removed, the mind recoils from their 
hold, recovers its elasticity, and re-unites itself 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 143 

to that image of good, which is but a reflection 
and configuration of its own nature. Seen in 
the distance, in the long perspective of waning 
years, the meanest incidents, enlarged and en- 
riched by countless recollections, become in- 
teresting ; the most painful, broken and softened 
by time, soothe. How any object, that unex- 
pectedly brings back to us old scenes and asso- 
ciations, startles the mind ! What a yearning it 
creates within us : what a longing to leap the 
intermediate space ! How fondly we cling to, 
and try to revive the impression of all that we 
then were I 

" Such tricks hath strong imagination ! " 

In truth, we impose upon ourselves, and know 
not what we wish. It is a cunning artifice, a 
quaint delusion, by which, in pretending to be 
what we were at a particular moment of time, 
we w T ould fain be all that we have since been, 
and have our lives to come over again. It is 
not the little, glimmering, almost annihilated 
speck in the distance, that rivets our attention 
and "hangs upon the beatings of our hearts : " 
it is the interval that separates us from it, and 
of which it is the trembling boundary, that ex- 
cites all this coil and mighty pudder in the 
breast. Into that great gap in our being "come 
thronging soft desires'' and infinite regrets. It 
is the contrast, the change from what we then 



144 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 



were, that arms the half-extinguished recollec- 
tion with its giant strength, and lifts the fabric 
of the affections from its shadowy base. In 
contemplating its utmost verge, we overlook 
the map of our existence, and re-tread, in ap- 
prehension, the journey of life. So it is that in 
early youth we strain our eager sight after the 
pursuits of manhood ; and, as we are sliding off 
the stage, strive to gather up the toys and flowers 
that pleased our thoughtless childhood. 

When I was quite a boy, my father used to 
take me to the Montpelier Tea-gardens at Wal- 
worth. Do I go there now ? No : the place is 
deserted, and its borders and its beds o'erturned. 
Is there, then, nothing that can 

" Bring back the hour 
Of glory in the grass, of splendour in the flower? " 

Oh ! yes. I unlock the casket of memory, and 
draw back the warders of the brain ; and there 
this scene of my infant wanderings still lives 
unfaded, or with fresher dyes. A new sense 
comes upon me, as in a dream ; a richer per- 
fume, brighter colours start out ; my eyes daz- 
zle ; my heart heaves with its new load of bliss, 
and I am a child again. My sensations are all 
glossy, spruce, voluptuous, and fine : they wear 
a candied coat, and are in holiday trim. I see 
the beds of larkspur with purple eyes ; tall holly- 
hocks, red and yellow ) the brown sun-flowers, 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 145 

caked in gold, with bees buzzing round them ; 
wildernesses of pinks, and hot-glowing pionies ; 
poppies run to seed ; the sugared lily, and faint 
mignionette, all ranged in order, and as thick 
as they can grow; the box-tree borders; the 
gravel- walks, the painted alcove, the confec- 
tionary, the clotted cream: — I think I see them 
now with sparkling looks; or have they vanished 
while I have been writing this description of 
them? No matter; they will return again when 
I least think of them. All that I have observed 
since, of flowers and plants, and grass-plots, and 
of suburb delights, seems, to me, borrowed from 
"that first garden of my innocence" — to be 
slips and scions stolen from that bed of memory. 
In this manner the darlings of our childhood 
burnish out in the eye of after years, and derive 
their sweetest perfume from the" first heartfelt 
sigh of pleasure breathed upon them, 

like the sweet south, 

That breathes upon a bank of violets, 
Stealing and giving odour ! " 

If I have pleasure in a flower garden, I have in 
a kitchen garden too, and for the same reason. 
If I see a row of cabbage-plants or of peas or 
beans coming up, I immediately think of those 
which I used so carefully to water of an ^evening 
at W — e — m, when my day's tasks were done, 
and of the pain with which I saw them droop 

, , ' L „ ' , • 



146 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 

and hang down their leaves in the morning s 
sun. Again, I never see a child's kite in the 
air, but it seems to pull at my heart. It is to 
me "a thing of life." I feel the twinge at my 
elbow, the flutter and palpitation, with which I 
used to let go the string of my own, as it rose 
in the air and towered among the clouds. My 
little cargo of hopes and fears ascended with it ; 
and as it made a part of my own consciousness 
then, it does so still, and appears " like some 
gay creature of the element," my playmate 
when life was young, and twin-born with my 
earliest recollections. I could enlarge on this 
subject of childish amusements, but Mr Leigh 
Hunt has treated it so well, in a paper in the 
Indicator, on the productions of the toy-shops of 
the metropolis, that if I were to insist more on 
it, I should only pass for an imitator of that 
ingenious and agreeable writer, and for an in- 
different one into the bargain. 

Sounds, smells, and sometimes tastes, are 
remembered longer than visible objects, and 
serve, perhaps, better for links in the chain of 
association. The reason seems to be this : they 
are in their nature intermittent, and compara- 
tively rare ; whereas objects of sight are always 
before us, and, by their continuous succession, 
drive one another out. The eye is always open ; 
and between any given impression and its re- 
currence a second time, fifty thousand other im- 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 147 

pressions have, in all likelihood, been stamped 
upon the sense and on the brain. The other 
senses are not so active or vigilant. They are 
but seldom called into play. The ear, for ex- 
ample, is oftener courted by silence than noise ; 
and the sounds that break that silence sink 
deeper and more durably into the mind. I have 
a more present and lively recollection of certain 
scents, tastes, and sounds, for this reason, than 
I have of mere visible images, because they are 
more original, and less worn by frequent repe- 
tition. Where there is nothing interposed be- 
tween any two impressions, whatever the dis- 
tance of time that parts them, they naturally 
seem to touch; and the renewed impression 
recals the former one in full force, without dis- 
traction or competitor. The taste of barberries, 
which have hung out in the snow during the 
severity of a North American winter, I have in 
my mouth still, after an interval of thirty years; 
for I have met with no other taste, in all that 
time, at all like it. It remains by itself, almost 
like the impression of a sixth sense. But the 
colour is mixed up indiscriminately with the 
colours of many other berries, nor should I be 
able to distinguish it among them. The smell of 
a brick-kiln carries the evidence of its own iden- 
tity with it : neither is it to me (from peculiar 
associations) unpleasant. The colour of brick- 
dust, on the contrary, is more common, and 



148 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 

easily confounded with other colours. Raphael 
did not keep it quite distinct from his flesh- 
colour. I will not say that we have a more 
perfect recollection of the human voice than 
of that complex picture the human face, but I 
think the sudden hearing of a well-known voice 
has something in it more affecting and striking 
than the sudden meeting with the face : perhaps, 
indeed, this may be because we have a more fa- 
miliar remembrance of the one than the other, 
and the voice takes us more by surprise on that 
account. I am by no means certain (generally 
speaking) that we have the ideas of the other 
senses so accurate and well made out as those 
of visible form : what I chiefly mean is, that 
the feelings belonging to the sensations of our 
other organs, when accidentally recalled, are 
kept more separate and pure. Musical sounds, 
probably, owe a good deal of their interest 
and romantic effect to the principle here spoken 
of. Were they constant, they would become 
indifferent, as we may find with respect to 
disagreeable noises, which we do not hear 
after a time. I know no situation more piti- 
able than that of a blind fiddler, who has but 
one sense left (if we except the sense of snuff- 
taking*) and who has that stunned or deafened 
by his own villanous noises. Shakespear says. 



* See Wilkie's Blind Fiddler. 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 149 



" How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night ! " 

It has been observed, in explanation of this 
passage, that it is because in the day-time lovers 
are occupied with one another's faces, but that 
at night they can only distinguish the sound of 
each other's voices. I know not how this may 
be : but I have, ere now, heard a voice break 
so upon the silence, 

" To angels' 'twas most like," 

and charm the moonlight air with its balmy 
essence, that the budding leaves trembled to its 
accents. Would I might have heard it once 
more whisper peace and hope (as erst when it 
was mingled with the breath of spring), and 
with its soft pulsations lift winged fancy to 
heaven ! But it has ceased, or turned where I 
no more shall hear it ! — Hence, also, we see 
what is the charm of the shepherd's pastoral 
reed ; and why we hear him, as it were, piping 
to his flock, even in a picture. Our ears are 
fancy-stung ! I remember once strolling along 
the margin of a stream, skirted with willows 
and plashy sedges, in one of those low shel- 
tered valleys on Salisbury Plain, where the 
monks of former ages had planted chapels and 
built hermits' cells. There was a little parish- 
church near, but tall elms and quivering alders 
hid it from my sight, when, all of a sudden, I 



150 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 



was startled by the sound of the full organ 
pealing on the ear, accompanied by rustic 
voices and the willing quire of village-maids 
and children. It rose, indeed, " like an ex- 
halation of rich distilled perfumes/' The dew 
from a thousand pastures was gathered in its 
softness ; the silence of a thousand years spoke 
in it. It came upon the heart like the calm 
beauty of death : fancy caught the sound, and 
faith mounted on it to the skies. It filled the 
valley like a mist, and still poured out its end- 
less chant, and still it swells upon the ear, and 
wraps me in a golden trance, drowning the noisy 
tumult of the world ! 

There is a curious and interesting discussion, 
on the comparative distinctness of our visual 
and other external impressions, in Mr Fearn's 
i Essay on Consciousness/ with which I shall try 
to descend from this rhapsody to the ground of 
common sense and plain reasoning again. After 
observing, a little before, that " nothing is more 
untrue than that sensations of vision do neces- 
sarily leave more vivid and durable ideas than 
those of grosser senses," he proceeds to give a 
number of illustrations in support of this po- 
sition. " Notwithstanding," he says, u the ad- 
vantages here enumerated in favour of sight, 
I think there is no doubt that a man will come 
to forget acquaintance, and many other visible 
objects, noticed in mature age, before he will 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 151 



in the least forget tastes and smells, of only 
moderate interest, encountered either in his 
childhood, or at any time since. 

" In the course of voyaging to various distant 
regions, it has several times happened that I 
have eaten once or twice of different things 
that never came in my way before nor since. 
Some of these have been pleasant, and some 
scarce better than insipid ; but I have no 
reason to think I have forgot, or much altered, 
the ideas left by those single impulses of taste ; 
though here the memory of them certainly has 
not been preserved by repetition. It is clear 
I must have seen, as well as tasted, those things ; 
and I am decided that I remember the tastes 
with more precision than I do the visual sen- 
sations. 

u I remember having once, and only once, 
eat Kangaroo in New Holland ; and having 
once smelled a baker's shop, having a peculiar 
odour, in the city of Bassorah. Now both these 
gross ideas remain with me quite as vivid as 
any visual ideas of those places ; and this could 
not be from repetition, but really from interest 
in the sensation. 

" Twenty-eight years ago, in the island of 
J amaica, 1 partook (perhaps twice) of a certain 
fruit, of the taste of which I have now a very 
fresh idea ; and I could add other instances of 
that period. 



152 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 

" I have had repeated proofs of having lost 
retention of visual objects, at various distances 
of time, though they had once been familiar. I 
have not, during thirty years, forgot the deli- 
cate, and in itself most trifling sensation, that 
the palm of my hand used to convey, when I 
was a boy, trying the different effects of what 
boys call light and heavy tops ; but I cannot 
remember within several shades of the brown 
coat which I left off a week ago. If any man 
thinks he can do better, let him take an ideal 
survey of his wardrobe, and then actually refer 
to it for proof. 

" After retention of such ideas, it certainly 
would be very difficult to persuade me that feel- 
ing, taste, and smell can scarce be said to leave 
ideas, unless indistinct and obscure ones. 

" Show a Londoner correct models of twenty 
London churches, and, at the same time, a 
model of each, which differs, in several con- 
siderable features, from the truth, and I ven- 
ture to say he shall not tell you, in any instance, 
which is the correct one, except by mere chance. 

" If he is an architect, he may be much more 
correct than any ordinary person : and this ob- 
viously is, because he has felt an interest in 
viewing these structures, which an ordinary 
person does not feel : and here interest is the 
sole reason of his remembering more correctly 
than his neighbour. 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 153 

" I once heard a person quaintly ask another, 
How many trees were there in St Paul's church- 
yard? The question itself indicates that many 
cannot answer it ; and this is found to be the 
case with those who have passed the church 
an hundred times : whilst the cause is, that 
every individual in the busy stream which glides 
past^ St Paul's is engrossed in various other 
interests. 

" How often does it happen that we enter 
a well-known apartment, or meet a well-known 
friend, and receive some vague idea of visible 
difference, but cannot possibly find out what it 
is ; until at length we come to perceive (or 
perhaps must be told) that some ornament or 
furniture is removed, altered, or added in the 
apartment ; or that our friend has cut his hair, 
taken a wig, or has made any of twenty con- 
siderable alterations in his appearance. At 
other times, we have no perception of alter- 
ation whatever, though the like has taken 
place. 

" It is, however, certain, that sight, appo- 
sited with interest, can retain tolerably exact 
copies of sensations, especially if not too com- 
plex ; such as of the human countenance and 
figure. Yet the voice will convince us, when 
the countenance will not ; and he is reckoned 
an excellent painter, and no ordinary genius, 
who can make a tolerable likeness from memory. 



154 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 

Nay, more, it is a conspicuous proof of the in- 
accuracy of visual ideas, that it is an effort of 
consummate art, attained by many years* prac- 
tice, to take a strict likeness of the human 
countenance, even when the object is present ; 
and among those cases, where the wilful cheat 
of flattery has been avoided, we still find in how 
very few instances the best painters produce a 
likeness up to the life, though practice and in- 
terest join in the attempt. 

" I imagine an ordinary person would find it 
very difficult, supposing he had some knowledge 
of drawing, to afford, from memory, a tolerable 
sketch of such a familiar object as his curtain, 
his carpet, or his dressing-gown, if the pattern 
of either be at all various or irregular ; yet he 
will instantly tell, with precision, either if his 
snuff or his wine has not the same character 
it had yesterday, though both these are com- 
pounds. 

" Beyond all this I may observe, that a draper, 
who is in the daily habit of such comparisons, 
cannot carry in his mind the particular shade 
of a colour during a second of time ; and has 
no certainty of tolerably matching two simple 
colours, except by placing the patterns in con- 
tact." — ' Essay on Consciousness,' p. 303. 

I will conclude the subject of this Essay with 
observing, that (as it appears to me) a nearer 
and more familiar acquaintance with persons 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 155 

has a different and more favourable effect than 
that with places or things. The latter improve 
(as an almost universal rule) by being removed 
to a distance : the former, generally at least, 
gain by being brought nearer and more home 
to us. Report or imagination seldom raises 
any individual so high in our estimation as to 
disappoint us greatly when we are introduced 
to him : prejudice and malice constantly ex- 
aggerate defects beyond the reality. Ignorance 
alone makes monsters or bugbears : our actual 
acquaintances are all very common-place people. 
The thing is, that as a matter of hearsay or con- 
jecture, we make abstractions of particular vices, 
and irritate ourselves against some particular 
quality or action of the person we dislike : — 
whereas, individuals are concrete existences, not 
arbitrary denominations or nicknames; and have 
innnumerable other qualities, good, bad, and in- 
different, besides the damning feature with which 
we fill up the portrait or caricature, in our pre- 
vious fancies. We can scarcely hate any one 
that we know. An acute observer complained, 
that if there was any one to whom he had a 
particular spite, and a wish to let him see it, the 
moment he came to sit down with him, his en- 
mity was disarmed by some unforeseen circum- 
stance. If it was a Quarterly Reviewer, he was 
in other respects like any other man. Suppose, 



156 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE* 

again, your adversary turns out a very ugly 
man, or wants an eye, you are balked in that 
way; — he is not what you expected, the object 
of your abstract hatred and implacable disgust. 
He may be a very disagreeable person, but he 
is no longer the same. If you come into a room 
where a man is, you find, in general, that he has 
a nose upon his face. " There's sympathy ! " 
This alone is a diversion to your unqualified 
contempt. He is stupid, and says nothing, but 
he seems to have something in him when he 
laughs. You had conceived of him as a rank 
Whig or Tory — yet he talks upon other sub- 
jects. You knew that he was a virulent pai'ty- 
writer ; but you find that the man himself is a 
tame sort of animal enough. He does not bite. 
That's something. In short, you can make 
nothing of it. Even opposite vices balance one 
another. A man may be pert in company, but 
he is also dull; so that you cannot, though you 
try, hate him cordially, merely for the wish to 
be offensive. He is a knave. Granted. You 
learn, on a nearer acquaintance, what you did 
not know before — that he is a fool as well ; so 
you forgive him. On the other hand, he may 
be a profligate public character, and may make 
no secret of it ; but he gives you a hearty shake 
by the hand, speaks kindly to servants, and 
supports an aged father and mother. Politics 



WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 157 

apart, he is a very honest fellow. You are told 
that a person has carbuncles on his face ; but 
you have ocular proofs that he is sallow, and 
pale as a ghost. This does not much mend the 
matter; but it blunts the edge of the ridicule, 
and turns your indignation against the inventor 
of the lie ; but he is the editor of ' Blackwood's 
Magazine ; 9 so you are just where you were. I 
am not very fond of anonymous criticism ; I 
want to know who the author can be : but the 
moment I learn this, I am satisfied. Even the 
author of i Waverley ? would do well to come 
out of his disguise. It is the mask only that we 
dread and hate : the man may have something 
human about him ! The notions, in short, which 
we entertain of people at a distance, or from 
partial representations, or from guess-work, are 
simple, uncompounded ideas, which answer to 
nothing in reality : those which we derive 
from experience are mixed modes, the only 
true, and, in general, the most favourable 
ones. Instead of naked deformity, or abstract 
perfection — 

" Those faultless monsters which the world ne'er saw " — 

u the web of our lives is of a mingled yarn, 
good and ill together : our virtues would be 
proud, if our faults whipt them not ; and our 
vices would despair, if they were not encouraged 
by our virtues." This was truly and finely said 



158 WHY DISTANT OBJECTS PLEASE. 



long ago, by one who knew the strong and weak 
points of human nature : but it is what sects, 
and parties, and those philosophers whose pride 
and boast it is to classify by nicknames, have yet 
to learn the meaning of ! 



ESSAY VIII. 

ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



" Corporate bodies have no soul." 

Corporate bodies are more corrupt and pro- 
fligate than individuals, because they have more 
power to do mischief, and are less amenable 
to disgrace or punishment. They feel neither 
shame, remorse, gratitude, nor good-will. The 
principle of private or natural conscience is ex- 
tinguished in each individual (we have no moral 
sense in the breasts of others), and nothing is 
considered but how the united efforts of the 
whole (released from idle scruples) may be best 
directed to the obtaining of political advantages 
and privileges to be shared as common spoil. 
Each member reaps the benefit, and lays the 
blame, if there is any, upon the rest. The 
esprit de corps becomes the ruling passion of 
every corporate body, compared with which the 
motives of delicacy or decorum towards others 
are looked upon as being both impertinent and 
improper. If any person sets up a plea of this 



160 ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



sort in opposition to the rest, he is overruled, 
he gets ill-blood, and does no good : he is re- 
garded as an interloper, a ' black sheep ' in the 
flock, and is either 'sent to Coventry,' or obliged 
to acquiesce in the notions and wishes of those 
he associates and is expected to co-operate 
with. The refinements of private judgment 
are referred to and negatived in a committee of 
the whole body, while the projects and interests 
of the Corporation meet with a secret but pow- 
erful support in the self-love of the different 
members. Remonstrance — opposition, is fruit- 
less, troublesome, invidious : it answers no one 
end : and a conformity to the sense of the com- 
pany is found to be no less necessary to a re- 
putation for good-fellowship than to a quiet life. 
" Self-love and social 99 here look like the same ; 
and in consulting the interests of a particular 
class, which are also your own, there is even a 
show of public virtue. He who is a captious, 
impracticable, dissatisfied member of his little 
club or coterie, is immediately set down as a 
bad member of the community in general, as 
no friend to regularity and order, " a pestilent 
fellow/' and one who is incapable of sympathy, 
attachment, or cordial co-operation in any de- 
partment or undertaking. Thus the most re- 
fractory novice in such matters becomes weaned 
from his obligations to the larger society, which 
only breed him inconvenience without any ade- 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



101 



quate recompense, and wedded to a nearer and 
dearer one, where he finds every kind of com- 
fort and consolation. He contracts the vague 
and unmeaning character of Man into the more 
emphatic title of Freeman and Alderman. The 
claims of an undefined humanity sit looser and 
looser upon him, at the same time that he draws 
the bands of his new engagements closer and 
tighter about him. He loses sight, by degrees, 
of all common sense and feeling in the petty 
squabbles, intrigues, feuds, and airs, of affected 
importance to which he has made himself an 
accessary. He is quite an altered man. * 6 Really 
the society were under considerable obligations 
to him in that last business ; " that is to say, in 
some paltry job or under-hand attempt to en- 
croach upon the rights, or dictate to the under- 
standings, of the neighbourhood. In the mean 
time, they eat, drink, and carouse together. 
They wash down all minor animosities and un- 
avoidable differences of opinion in pint-bumpers; 
and the complaints of the multitude are lost in 
the clatter of plates and the roaring of loyal 
catches at every quarter's meeting or mayor's 
feast. The town-hall reels with an unwieldy 
sense of self-importance : " the very stones 
prate " of processions : the common pump 
creaks in concert with the uncorking of bottles 
and tapping of beer-barrels : the market-cross 
looks big with authority. Everything has an 

M 



162 ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



ambiguous, upstart, repulsive air. Circle within 
circle is formed, an imperium in imperio : and 
the business is to exclude from the first circle 
all the notions, opinions, ideas, interests, and 
pretensions, of the second. Hence there arises 
not only an antipathy to common sense and 
decency in those things where there is a real 
opposition of interest or clashing of prejudice, 
but it becomes a habit and a favourite amuse- 
ment in those who are " dressed in a little brief 
authority," to thwart, annoy, insult, and harass 
others on all occasions where the least oppor- 
tunity or pretext for it occurs. Spite, bicker- 
ings, back-biting, insinuations, lies, jealousies, 
nicknames, are the order of the day, and nobody 
knows what it's all about. One would think 
that the mayor, aldermen, and liverymen, were 
a higher and more select species of animals 
than their townsmen ; though there is no differ- 
ence whatever but in their gowns and staff of 
office ! This is the essence of the esprit de corps. 
It is certainly not a very delectable source of 
contemplation or subject to treat of. 

Public bodies are so far worse than the in- 
dividuals composing them, because the official 
takes place of the moral sense. The nerves that 
in themselves were soft and pliable enough, and 
responded naturally to the touch of pity, when 
fastened into a machine of that sort, become 
callous and rigid, and throw off every extrane- 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 163 



ous application that can be made to them with 
perfect apathy. An appeal is made to the ties 
of individual friendship : the body in general 
know nothing of them. A case has occurred 
which strongly called forth the compassion of 
the person who was witness of it : but the body 
(or any special deputation of them) were not 
present when it happened. These little weak- 
nesses and " compunctious visitings of nature " 
are effectually guarded against, indeed, by the 
very rules and regulations of the society, as 
well as by its spirit. The individual is the 
creature of his feelings of all sorts, the sport of 
his vices and his virtues — like the fool in Shake- 
spear, " motley's his proper wear : " — corporate 
bodies are dressed in a moral uniform ; mixed 
motives do not operate there, frailty is made 
into a system, " diseases are turned into com- 
modities." Only so much of any one's natural 
or genuine impulses can influence him in his 
artificial capacity as formally comes home to 
the aggregate conscience of those with whom 
he acts, or bears upon the interests (real or 
pretended), the importance, respectability, and 
professed objects of the society. Beyond that 
point the nerve is bound up, the conscience is 
seared, and the torpedo -touch of so much inert 
matter operates to deaden the best feelings and 
harden the heart. Laughter and tears are said 
to be the characteristic signs of humanity. 



164 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



Laughter is common enough in such places as 
a set-off to the mock-gravity: but who ever saw 
a public body in tears ? Nothing but a job or 
some knavery can keep them serious for ten 
minutes together.* 

Such are the qualifications and the appren- 
ticeship necessary to make a man tolerated, to 
enable him to pass as a cypher, or be admitted 
as a mere numerical unit, in any corporate 
body : to be a leader and dictator, he must be 
diplomatic in impertinence, and officious in 
every dirty work. He must not merely con- 
form to established prejudices ; he must flatter 
them. He must not merely be insensible to 
the demands of moderation and equity; he must 
be loud against them. He must not simply fall 
in with all sorts of contemptible cabals and in- 
trigues ; he must be indefatigable in fomenting 



* We sometimes see a whole play-house in tears. But 
the audience at a theatre, though a public assembly, are 
not a public body. They are not incorporated into a 
frame-work of exclusive, narrow-minded interests of 
their own. Each individual looks out of his own insig- 
nificance at a scene, ideal perhaps, and foreign to him- 
self, but true to nature ; friends, strangers, meet on the 
common ground of humanity, and the tears that spring 
from their breasts are those which " sacred pity has 
engendered." They are a mixed multitude melted into 
sympathy by remote, imaginary events, not a combina- 
tion cemented by petty views, and sordid, selfish preju- 
dices. 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 165 



them, and setting everybody together by the 
ears. He must not only repeat, but invent lies. 
He must write speeches and write hand -bills ; 
he must be devoted to the wishes and objects 
of the society, its creature, its jackal, its busy- 
body, its mouth-piece, its prompter ; he must 
deal in law-cases, in demurrers, in charters, in 
traditions, in common-places, in logic and rhe- 
toric — in everything but common sense and 
honesty. He must (in Mr Burke's phrase) 
" disembowel himself of his natural entrails, 
and be stuffed with paltry, blurred sheets of 
parchment about the rights " of the privileged 
few. He must be a concentrated essence, a 
varnished, powdered representative of the vices, 
absurdities, hypocrisy, jealousy, pride, and prag- 
maticalness of his party. Such a one, by bustle 
and self-importance and puffing, by flattering 
one to his face, and abusing another behind his 
back, by lending himself to the weaknesses of 
some and pampering the mischievous propensi- 
ties of others, will pass for a great man in a 
little society. 

Age does not improve the morality of public 
bodies. They grow more and more tenacious 
of their idle privileges and senseless self-conse- 
quence. They get weak and obstinate at the 
same time. Those, who belong to them, have 
all the upstart pride and pettifogging spirit of 
their present character ingrafted on the vene- 



166 ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



rableness and superstitious sanctity of ancient 
institutions. They are naturally at issue, first 
with their neighbours, and next with their con- 
temporaries, on all matters of common propriety 
and judgment. They become more attached to 
forms, the more obsolete they are ; and the de. 
fence of every absurd and invidious distinction 
is a debt which (by implication) they owe to 
the dead as well as the living. What might 
once have been of serious practical utility they 
turn to farce, by retaining the letter when the 
spirit is gone : and they do this the more, the 
more glaring the inconsistency and want of 
sound reasoning ; for they think they thus give 
proof of their zeal and attachment to the ab- 
stract principle on which old establishments 
exist, the ground of prescription and authority. 
"The greater the wrong, the greater the right," 
in all such cases. The esprit de corps does not 
take much merit to itself for upholding what is 
justifiable in any system, or the proceedings of 
any party, but for adhering to what is palpably 
injurious. You may exact the first from an 
enemy : the last is the province of a friend. It 
has been made a subject of complaint, that the 
champions of the Church, for example, who are 
advanced to dignities and honours, are hardly 
ever those who defend the common principles 
of Christianity, but those who volunteer to man 
the out-works, and set up ingenious excuses for 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 167 



the questionable points, the ticklish places in 
the established form of worship, that is, for 
those which are attacked from without, and are 
supposed in danger of being undermined by- 
stratagem, or carried by assault ! 

The great resorts and seats of learning often 
outlive in this way the intention of the founders, 
as the world outgrows them. They may be 
said to resemble antiquated coquettes of the last 
age, who think everything ridiculous and into- 
lerable but what was in fashion when they were 
young, and yet are standing proofs of the pro- 
gress of taste, and the vanity of human preten- 
sions. Our universities are, in a great measure, 
become cisterns to hold, not conduits to disperse 
knowledge. The age has the start of them ; 
that is, other sources of knowledge have been 
opened since their formation, to which the 
world have had access, and have drunk plenti- 
fully at those living fountains, but from which 
they are debarred by the tenor of their charter, 
and as a matter of dignity and privilege. They 
have grown poor, like the old grandees in some 
countries, by subsisting on the inheritance of 
learning, while the people have grown rich by 
trade. They are too much in the nature of 
fixtures in intellect : they stop the way in the 
road to truth ; or at any rate (for they do not 
themselves advance) they can only be of service 
as a check-weight on the too hasty and rapid 



168 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



career of innovation. All that has been in- 
vented or thought in the last two hundred years 
they take no cognizance of, or as little as pos- 
sible ; they are above it ; they stand upon the 
ancient land marks, and will not budge ; what- 
ever was not known when they were first en- 
dowed, they are still in profound and lofty ig- 
norance of. Yet in that period how much has 
been done in literature, arts, and science, of 
which (with the exception of mathematical 
knowledge, the hardest to gainsay or subject to 
the trammels of prejudice and barbarous ipse 
dixits) scarce any trace is to be found in the 
authentic modes of study, and legitimate in- 
quiry, which prevail at either of our Univer- 
sities ! The unavoidable aim of all corporate 
bodies of learning is not to grow wise, or teach 
others wisdom, but to prevent any one else from 
being or seeming wiser than themselves ; in other 
words, their infallible tendency is in the end to 
suppress inquiry and darken knowledge by 
setting limits to the mind of man, aud saying 
to his proud spirit, 6 Hitherto shalt thou come, 
and no farther ! 9 It would not be an unedi- 
fving experiment to make a collection of the 
titles of works published in the course of the 
year by Members of the Universities. If any 
attempt is to be made to patch up an idle sys- 
tem in policy or legislation, or church-govern- 
ment, it is by a Member of the University : if 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



169 



any hashed-up speculation on an old exploded 
argument is to be brought forward " in spite of 
shame, in erring reason's spite/' it is by a 
Member of the University : if a paltry project 
is ushered into the world for combining ancient 
prejudices with modern time-serving, it is by a 
Member of the University, Thus we get at a 
stated supply of annual Defences of the Sinking 
Fund, Thoughts on the Evils of Education, 
Treaties on Predestination, and Eulogies on 
Mr Malthus, all from the same source, and 
through the same vent. If they came from 
any other quarter nobody would look at them ; 
but they have an Imprimatur from dulness 
and authority : we know that there is no offence 
in them ; and they are stuck in the shop win- 
dows, and read (in the intervals of Lord Byron's 
works, or the Scotch novels) in cathedral towns 
and close boroughs ! 

It is, I understand and believe, pretty much 
the same in more modern institutions for the 
encouragement of the Fine Arts. The end is 
lost in the means : rules take place of nature 
and genius ; cabal and bustle, and struggles for 
rank and precedence, supersede the study and 
the love of art. A Royal Academy is a kind 
of hospital and infirmary for the obliquities of 
taste and ingenuity — a receptacle where enthu- 
siasm and originality stop and stagnate, and 
spread their influence no farther, instead of 



170 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



being a school founded for genius, or a temple 
built to fame. The generality of those who 
wriggle, or fawn, or beg their way to a seat 
there, live on their certificate of merit to a good 
old age, and are seldom heard of afterwards. 
If a man of sterling capacity gets among them, 
and minds his own business, he is nobody ; he 
makes no figure in council, in voting, in reso- 
lutions or speeches. If he comes forward with 
plans and views for the good of the Academy 
and the advancement of art, he is immediately 
set upon as a visionary, a fanatic, with notions 
hostile to the interest and credit of the existing 
members of the society. If he directs the am- 
bition of the scholars to the study of History, 
this strikes at once at the emoluments of the 
profession, who are most of them (by God's 
will) portrait painters. If he eulogises the 
Antique, and speaks highly of the Old Masters, 
he is supposed to be actuated by envy to living 
painters and native talent. If, again, he insists 
on a knowledge of anatomy as essential to cor- 
rect drawing, this would seem to imply a want 
of it in our most eminent designers. Every 
plan, suggestion, argument, that has the general 
purposes and principles of art for its object, is 
thwarted, scouted, ridiculed, slandered, as hav- 
ing a malignant aspect towards the profits and 
pretensions of the great mass of flourishing and 
respectable artists in the country. This leads 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



171 



to irritation and ill-will on all sides. The ob- 
stinacy of the constituted authorities keeps pace 
with the violence and extravagance opposed to 
it ; and they lay all the blame on the folly and 
mistakes they have themselves occasioned or 
increased. It is considered as a personal quar- 
rel, not a public question ; by which means the 
dignity of the body is implicated in resenting 
the slips and inadvertencies of its members, not 
in promoting their common and declared ob- 
jects. In this sort of wretched tracasserie the 
Barrys and Haydons stand no chance with the 

Catons, the Tubbs, and the F s. Sir J oshua 

even was obliged to hold himself aloof from 
them, and Fuseli passes as a kind of non- 
descript, or one of his own grotesques. The 
air of an academy, in short, is not the air of 
genius and immortality ; it is too close and 
heated, and impregnated with the notions of 
the common sort. A man steeped in a corrupt 
atmosphere of this description is no longer open 
to the genial impulses of nature and truth, nor 
sees visions of ideal beauty, nor dreams of an- 
tique grace and grandeur, nor has the finest 
works of art continually hovering and floating 
through his uplifted fancy ; but the images that 
haunt it are rules of the academy, charters, 
inaugural speeches, resolutions passed or re- 
scinded, cards of invitation to a council-meeting, 



172 ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



or the annual dinner prize-medals, and the 
king's diploma, constituting him a gentleman 
and esquire. He "wipes out all trivial, fond 
records ; " all romantic aspirations ; " the Ra- 
phael grace, the Guido air;" and the com- 
mands of the academy alone " must live within 
the book and volume of his brain, unmixed with 
baser matter." It may be doubted whether 
any work of lasting reputation and universal 
interest can spring up in this soil, or ever has 
done in that of any academy. The last question 
is a matter of fact and history, not of mere 
opinion or prejudice ; and may be ascertained 
as such accordingly. The mighty names of 
former times rose before the existence of acad- 
emies ; and the three greatest painters, un- 
doubtedly, that this country has produced, 
Reynolds, Wilson, and Hogarth, were not 
" dandled and swaddled " into artists in any 
institution for the fine arts. I do not apprehend 
that the names of Chantrey or Wilkie (great as 
one, and considerable as the other of them is), 
can be made use of in any way to impugn the 
jet of this argument. We may find a con- 
siderable improvement in some of our artists, 
when they get out of the vortex for a time. 
Sir Thomas Lawrence is all the better for hav- 
ing been abstracted for a year or two from 
Somerset House ) and Mr Dawe, they say, has 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 173 



been doing wonders in the North. When will 
he return, and once more " bid Britannia rival 
Greece ?" 

Mr Canning somewhere lays it down as a 
rule, that corporate bodies are necessarily cor- 
rect and pure in their conduct, from the know- 
ledge which the individuals composing them 
have of one another, and the jealous vigilance 
they exercise over each other's motives and 
characters ; whereas, people collected into mobs 
are disorderly and unprincipled from being 
utterly unknown and unaccountable to each 
other. This is a curious pass of wit. I differ 
with him in both parts of the dilemma. To 
begin with the first, and to handle it somewhat 
cavalierly, according to the model before us : 
we know, for instance, there is said to be 
honour among thieves, but very little honesty 
towards others. Their honour consists in the 
division of the booty, not in the mode of ac- 
quiring it : they do not (often) betray one 
another, but they will waylay a stranger, or 
knock out a traveller's brains : they may be 
depended on in giving the alarm when any of 
their posts are in danger of being surprised ; 
and they will stand together for their ill-gotten 
gains to the last drop of their blood. Yet they 
form a distinct society, and are strictly respon- 
sible for their behaviour to one another and to 
their leader. They are not a mob, but a gang, 



174 ON CORPORATE BODIES. 



completely in one another's power and secrets. 
Their familiarity, however, with the proceed- 
ings of the corps, does not lead them to expect 
or to exact from it a very high standard of 
moral honesty; that is out of the question; 
but they are sure to gain the good opinion of 
their fellows by committing all sorts of depre- 
dations, fraud, and violence against the com- 
munity at large. So (not to speak it profanely) 
some of Mr Canning's friends may be very re- 
spectable people in their way — " all honourable 
men" — but their respectability is confined 
within party-limits ; every one does not sym- 
pathise in the integrity of their views ; the 
understanding between them and the public is 
not well-defined or reciprocal. Or, suppose a 
gang of pickpockets hustle a passenger in the 
street, and the mob set upon them, and pro- 
ceed to execute summary justice upon such as 
they can lay hands on, am I to conclude that 
the rogues are in the right, because theirs is a 
system of well-organised knavery, which they 
settled in the morning, with their eyes one upon 
the other, and which they regularly review at 
night, with a due estimate of each other's mo- 
tives, character, and conduct in the business ; 
and that the honest men are in the w T rong, 
because they are a casual collection of unpre- 
judiced, disinterested individuals, taken at a 
venture from the mass of the people, acting 



ON CORPORATE BODIES. 175 



without concert or responsibility, on the spur 
of the occasion, and giving way to their in- 
stantaneous impulses and honest anger ? Mobs, 
in fact, then, are almost always right in their 
feelings, and often in their judgments, on this 
very account — that being utterly unknown to 
and disconnected with each other, they have no 
point of union or principle of co-operation be- 
tween them, but the natural sense of justice 
recognised by all persons in common. They 
appeal, at the first meeting, not to certain sym- 
bols and watch-words privately agreed upon, 
like Free-Masons, but to the maxims and in- 
stincts proper to all the world. They have no 
other clew to guide them to their object but 
either the dictates of the heart or the univer- 
sally understood sentiments of society, neither 
of which are likely to be in the wrong. The 
flame which bursts out and blazes from popular 
sympathy, is made of honest, but homely ma- 
terials. It is not kindled by sparks of wit or 
sophistry, nor damped by the cold calculations 
of self-interest. The multitude may be wan- 
tonly set on by others, as is too often the case, 
or be carried too far in the impulse of rage and 
disappointment ; but their resentment, when 
they are left to themselves, is almost uniformly, 
in the first instance, excited by some evident 
abuse and wrong ; and the excesses into which 
they run arise from that very want of foresight 



176 ON CORPORATE BODIES. 

and regular system, which is a pledge of the 
uprightness and heartiness of their intentions. 
In short, the only class of persons to whom the 
above courtly charge of sinister and corrupt 
motives is not applicable, is that body of in- 
dividuals which usually goes by the name of 
the People ! 



ESSAY IX. 



WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT TO SIT IN THE 
BOXES ? 



I think not ; and that for the following reasons, 
as well as I can give them : — 

Actors belong to the public : their persons are 
not their own property. They exhibit themselves 
on the stage : that is enough, without display- 
ing themselves in the boxes of the theatre. I 
conceive that an actor, on account of the very 
circumstances of his profession, ought to keep 
himself as much incognito as possible. He plays 
a number of parts disguised, transformed into 
them as much as he can " by his so potent art," 
and he should not disturb this borrowed im- 
pression by unmasking before company, more 
than he can help. Let him go into the pit, if 
he pleases, to see — not into the first circle, to 
be seen. He is seen enough without that : he 
is the centre of an illusion that he is bound to 
support, both, as it appears to me, by a certain 
self-respect which should repel idle curiosity, 

N 



178 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 

and by a certain deference to the public, in 
whom he has inspired certain prejudices which 
he is covenanted not to break. He represents 
the majesty of successive kings: he takes the 
responsibility of heroes and lovers on himself ; 
the mantle of genius and nature falls on his 
shoulders ; we "pile millions" of association 
on him, under which he should be " buried^ 
quick," and not perk out an inauspicious face 
upon us, with a plain-cut coat, to say — "What 
fools you all were! — I am not Hamlet the 
Dane!" 

It is very well and in strict propriety for Mr 
Mathews, in his At Home, after he has been 
imitating his inimitable Scotchwoman, to slip 
out as quick as lightning, and appear in the 
side box, shaking hands with our old friend Jack 
Bannister. It adds to our surprise at the ver- 
satility of his changes of place and appearance, 
and he had been before us in his own person 
during a great part of the evening. There was 
no harm done — no imaginary spell broken — no 
discontinuity of thought or sentiment. Mr 
Mathews is himself (without offence be it 
spoken) both a cleverer and more respectable 
man than many of the characters he represents. 
Not so when 

" O'er the stage the Ghost of Hamlet stalks, 
Othello rages, Desdemona mourns, 
And poor Monimia pours her soul in love." 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES. 



179 



A different feeling then prevails : — close, close 
the scene upon them, and never break that fine 
phantasmagoria of the brain. Or if it must be 
done at all, let us choose some other time and 
place for it : let no one wantonly dash the 
Circean cup from their lips, or dissolve the spirit 
of enchantment in the very palace of enchant- 
ment. Go, Mr , and sit somewhere else ! 

What a thing it is, for instance, for any part of 
an actor's dress to come off unexpectedly while 
he is playing ! What a cut it is upon himself 
and the audience ! What an effort he has to 
recover himself, and struggle through this ex- 
posure of the naked truth ! It has been con- 
sidered as one of the triumphs of Garrick's 
tragic power, that once when he was playing 
Lear, his crown of straw came off, and nobody 
laughed or took the least notice, so much had 
he identified himself with the character. Was 
he, after this, to pay so little respect to the 
feelings which he inspired, as to tear off his tat- 
tered robes, and take the old, crazed king with 
him to play the fool in the boxes ? 

" No ; let liim pass. Vex not his parting spirit, 
Nor on the rack of this rough world 
Stretch him out farther ! " 

Some lady is said to have fallen in love with 
Garrick from being present when he played the 
part of Romeo, on which he observed, that he 



180 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 



would undertake to cure her of her folly if she 
would only come and see him in Abel Drugger. 
So the modern tragedian and fine gentleman, 
by appearing to advantage, and conspicuously, 
in propria persona, may easily cure us of our 
predilection for all the principal characters he 
shines in. " Sir ! do you think Alexander looked 
o' this fashion in his life-time, or was perfumed 
so ? Had J ulius Csesar such a nose ? or wore 
his frill as you do? You have slain I don't 
know how many heroes < with a bare bodkin/ 
the gold pin in your shirt, and spoiled all the 
fine love speeches you will ever make by pick- 
ing your teeth with that inimitable air ! w 

An actor, after having performed his part 
well, instead of courting farther distinction, 
should affect obscurity, and " steal most guilty- 
like away," conscious of admiration that he 
can support nowhere but in his proper sphere, 
and jealous of his own and others' good opinion 
of him, in proportion as he is a darling in the 
public eye. He cannot avoid attracting dis- 
proportionate attention : why should he wish 
to fix it on himself in a perfectly flat and insig- 
nificant part, viz. his own character? It was a 
bad custom to bring authors on the stage to 
crown them. Omne ignotum pro magniftco est. 
Even professed critics, I think, should be shy of 
putting themselves forward to applaud loudly : 
any one in a crowd has a a voice potential " as 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES. 



181 



the press : it is either committing their preten- 
sions a little indiscreetly, or confirming their 
own judgment by a clapping of hands. If you 
only go and give the cue lustily, the house 
seems in wonderful accord with your opinions. 
An actor, like a king, should only appear on 
state occasions. He loses popularity by too 
much publicity ; or, according to the proverb, 
H familiarity breeds contempt/' Both characters 
personate a certain abstract idea, are seen in a 
fictitious costume, and when they have " shuffled 
off this more than mortal coil/' they had better 
keep out of the way — the acts and sentiments 
emanating from themselves will not carry on 
the illusion of our prepossessions. Ordinary 
transactions do not give scope to grace and dig- 
nity like romantic situations, or prepared page- 
ants, and the little is apt to prevail over the 
great, if we come to count the instances. 

The motto of a great actor should be aut 
Ccesar aut nihil I do not see how with his 
crown, or plume of feathers, he can get through 
those little box-doors without stooping and 
squeezing his artificial importance to tatters. 
The entrance of the stage is arched so high 
" that players may jet through, and keep their 
gorgeous turbans on, without good-morrow to 
the gods ! " 

The top-tragedian of the day has too large 
and splendid a train following him to have room 



182 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 

for them in one of the dress boxes. When he 
appears there, it should be enlarged express for 
the occasion ; for at his heels march the figures, 
in full costume, of Cato, and Brutus, and Cas- 
sius, and of him with the falcon eye, and Othello, 
and Lear, and crook-backed Richard, and Ham- 
let, Prince of Denmark, and numbers more, and 
demand entrance along with him, shadows to 
which he alone lends bodily substance ! " The 
graves yawn and render up their dead to push 
us from our stools." There is a mighty bustle 
at the door, a gibbering and squeaking in the 
lobbies. An actor's retinue is imperial, it presses 
upon the imagination too much, and he should 
therefore slide unnoticed into the pit. Authors, 
who are in a manner his makers and masters, 
sit there contented — why should not he? " He 
is used to show himself." That, then, is the 
very reason he should conceal his person at 
other times. A habit of ostentation should not 
be reduced to a principle. If I had seen the 
late Gentleman Lewis fluttering in a prominent 
situation in the boxes, I should have been puz- 
zled whether to think of him as the Copper 
Captain, or as Bobadil, or Ranger, or young 
Rapid, or Lord Foppington, or fifty other whim- 
sical characters : then I should have got Munden 
and Quick, and a parcel more of them in my 
head, till "my brain would have been like a 
smoke-jack :" I should not have known what to 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES. 



183 



make of it ; but if I had seen him in the pit, I 
should merely have eyed him with respectful 
curiosity, and have told every one that that was 
Gentleman Lewis. We should have concluded 
from the circumstance that he was a modest, 
sensible man : we all knew beforehand that he 
could show off whenever he pleased ! 

There is one class of performers that I think 
is quite exempt from the foregoing reasoning, 
I mean retired actors. Come when they will 
and where they will, they are welcome to their 
old friends. They have as good a right to sit 
in the boxes as children at the holidays. But 
they do not, somehow, come often. It is but a 
melancholy recollection with them : — 

" Then sweet, 

Now sad to think on ! n 

Mrs Garrick still goes often, and hears the ap- 
plause of her husband over again in the shouts 
of the pit. Had Mrs Pritchard or Mrs Clive 
been living, I am afraid we should have seen 
little of them — it would have been too home a 
feeling with them. Mrs Siddons seldom if 
ever goes, and yet she is almost the only thing 
left worth seeing there. She need not stay 
away on account of any theory that I can form. 
She is out of the pale of all theories, and anni- 
hilates all rules. Wherever she sits there is 
grace and grandeur, there is tragedy personified. 



184 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 

Her seat is the undivided throne of the Tragic 
Muse. She had no need of the robes, the sweep- 
ing train, the ornaments of the stage ; in herself 
she is as great as any being she ever represented 
in the ripeness and plenitude of her power ! I 
should not, I confess, have had the same para- 
mount abstracted feeling at seeing J ohn Kemble 
there, whom I venerate at a distance, and should 
not have known whether he was playing oft' the 
great man or the great actor : — 

"A little more than kin, and less than kind." 

I know it may be said, in answer to all this pre- 
text of keeping the character of the player in- 
violate — " What is there more common, in fact, 
than for the hero of a tragedy to speak the pro- 
logue, or than for the heroine, who has been 
stabbed or poisoned, to revive, and come for- 
ward laughing in the epilogue?" As to the 
epilogue, it is spoken to get rid of the idea of 
the tragedy altogether, and to ward off the fury 
of the pit, who may be bent on its damnation. 
The greatest incongruity you can hit upon is, 
therefore, the most proper for this purpose. 
But I deny that the hero of a tragedy, or the 
principal character in it, is ever pitched upon to 
deliver the prologue. It is always, by prescrip- 
tion, some walking-shadow, some poor player, 
who cannot even spoil a part of any consequence. 
Is there not Mr Claremont always at hand for 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES. 



185 



this purpose, whom the late king pronounced 
three times to be " a bad actor ? " * What is 
there in common between that accustomed wave 
of the hand, and the cocked hat under the arm, 
and any passion or person that can be brought 
forward on the stage ? It is not that we can be 
said to acquire a prejudice against so harmless 
an actor as Mr Claremont ; we are born with a 
prejudice against a speaker of prologues. It is 
an innate idea: a natural instinct: there is a 
particular organ in the brain provided for it. 
Do we not all hate a manager? It is not be- 
cause he is insolent or impertinent, or fond of 
making ridiculous speeches, or a notorious 
puffer, or ignorant, or mean, or vain, but it is 
because we see him in a coat, waistcoat, and 



* Mr Munden and Mr Claremont went one Sunday 
to Windsor to see the king. They passed with other 
spectators once or twice : at last his late majesty distin- 
guished Munden in the crowd, and called him to him. 
After treating him with much cordial familiarity, the 
king said, " And pray, who is that with you ? " Mun- 
den, with many congees and contortions of face, replied, 
" An please your majesty, it's Mr Claremont, of the 
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane." — " Oh ! yes," said the king, 
" I know him well — a bad actor, a bad actor, a bad actor !" 
Why kings should repeat what they say three times is 
odd : their saying it once is quite enough. I have always 
liked Mr Claremont's face since I heard this anecdote, 
and perhaps the telling it may have the same effect on 
other people. 



186 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 

breeches. The stage is the world of fantasy : 
it is Queen Mab that has invited us to her 
revels there, and all that have to do with it 
should wear motley ! 

Lastly, there are some actors by profession, 
whose faces we like to see in the boxes or any- 
where else ; but it is because they are no actors, 
but rather gentlemen and scholars, and in their 
proper places in the boxes, or wherever they 
are. Does not an actor himself, I would ask, 
feel conscious and awkward in the boxes, if he 
thinks that he is known? And does he not sit 
there in spite of this uneasy feeling, and run 
the gauntlet of impertinent looks and whispers, 
only to get a little by-admiration, as he thinks? 
It is hardly to be supposed that he comes to see 
the play, the show. He must have enough of 
plays and finery. But he wants to see a fa- 
vourite (perhaps a rival) actor in a striking 
part. Then the place for him to do this is the 
pit. Painters, I know, always get as close up 
to a picture they want to copy as they can ; and 
I should imagine actors would want to do the 
same, in order to look into the texture and me- 
chanism of their art. Even theatrical critics 
can make nothing of a part that they see from 
the boxes. If you sit in the stage-tyox, your at- 
tention is drawn off by the company and other 
circumstances. If you get to a distance (so as 
to be out of the reach of jiotice) you can neither 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES. 



187 



hear nor see well. For myself, I would as soon 
take a seat on the top of the Monument to give 
an account of a first appearance, as go into the 
second or third tier of boxes to do it. I went, 
but the other day, with a box ticket, to see Miss 
Fanny Brunton come out in Juliet, and Mr 
Macready make a first appearance in Romeo ; 
and though I was told (by a tolerable judge) 
that the new J uliet was the most elegant figure 
on the stage, and that Mr Macready's Romeo 
was quite beautiful, I vow to God I knew no- 
thing of it. So little could I tell of the matter, 
that at one time I mistook Mr Horrebow for 
Mr Abbot. I have seen Mr Kean play Sir 
Giles Overreach one night from the front of the 
pit, and a few nights after from the front boxes, 
facing the stage. It was another thing alto- 
gether. That which had been so lately nothing 
but flesh and blood, a living fibre, fi instinct 
with fire" and spirit, was no better than a little 
fantoccini figure, darting backwards and for- 
wards on the stage, starting, screaming, and 
playing a number of fantastic tricks before the 
audience. I could account, in the latter in- 
stance, for the little approbation of the perform- 
ance manifested around me, and also for the 
general scepticism with respect to Mr Kean's 
acting, which has been said to prevail among 
those who cannot condescend to go into the 



188 



WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 



pit, and have not interest in the orchestra — to 
see him act. They may then stay away alto- 
gether. His face is the running comment on 
his acting, which reconciles the audience to it. 
Without that index to his mind, you are not 
prepared for the vehemence and suddenness of 
his gestures; his pauses are long, abrupt, and 
unaccountable, if not filled up by the expres- 
sion ; it is in the working of his face that you 
see the writhing and coiling up of the passions 
before they make their serpent-spring; the 
lightning of his eye precedes the hoarse burst 
of thunder from his voice. 

One may go into the boxes, indeed, and cri- 
ticise acting and actors with Sterne's stop-watch, 
but no otherwise — " * And between the nomi- 
native case and the verb (which, as your lord- 
ship knows, should agree together in number, 
person, &c.) there was a full pause of a second 
and two-thirds/ — 6 But was the eye silent — did 
the look say nothing V — 1 1 looked only at the 
stop-watch, my lord/ — * Excellent critic ! ' " — If 
any other actor, indeed, goes to see Mr Kean 
act, with a view to avoid imitation, this may be 
the place, or rather it is the way to run into it, 
for you see only his extravagances and defects, 
which are the most easily carried away. Mr 
Mathews may translate him into an At Home 
even from the slips! — Distinguished actors then 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES. 



189 



ought, I conceive, to set the example of going 
into the pit, were it only for their own sakes. 
I remember a trifling circumstance, which I 
worked up at the time into a confirmation of 
this theory of mine, engrafted on old prejudice 
and tradition.* I had got into the middle of 
the pit, at considerable risk of broken bones, 
to see Mr Kean in one of his early parts, when 
I perceived two young men seated a little be- 
hind me, with a certain space left round them. 
They were dressed in the height of the fashion, 
in light drab-coloured great coats, and with their 
shirt-sleeves drawn down over their hands, at a 
time when this was not so common as it has 
since become. 1 took them for younger sons 
of some old family at least. One of them, that 
was very good-looking, I thought might be 
Lord Byron, and his companion might be Mr 
Hobhouse. They seemed to have wandered 
from another sphere of this our planet, to wit- 
ness a masterly performance to the utmost ad- 
vantage. This stamped the thing. They were, 
undoubtedly, young men of rank and fashion ; 
but their taste was greater than their regard for 
appearances. The pit was, after all, the true 

* The trunk-maker, I grant, in the Spectator's time, 
sat in the two -shilling gallery. But that was in the 
Spectator's time, and not in the days of Mr Smirke and 
Mr Wyatt. 



190 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT 



resort of thorough-bred critics and amateurs. 
When there was anything worth seeing, this 
was the place ; and I began to feel a sort of re- 
flected importance in the consciousness that I 
also was a critic. Nobody sat near them — it 
would have seemed like an intrusion. Not a 
syllable was uttered. — They were two clerks in 
the Victualling office ! 

What I would insist on, then, is this — that 
for Mr Kean, or Mr Young, or Mr Macready, 
or any of those that are " cried out upon in 
the top of the compass" to obtrude themselves 
voluntarily or ostentatiously upon our notice, 
when they are out of character, is a solecism in 
theatricals. For them to thrust themselves for- 
ward before the scenes, is to drag us behind 
them against our will, than which nothing can 
be more fatal to a true passion for the stage, and 
which is a privilege that should be kept sacred 
for impertinent curiosity. Oh ! while I live, 
let me not be admitted (under special favour) 
to an actor's dressing-room. Let me not see 
how Cato painted, or how Caesar combed ! Let 
me not meet the prompt boys in the passage, 
nor see the half-lighted candles stuck against 
the bare walls, nor hear the creaking of ma- 
chines, or the fiddlers laughing; nor see a 
Columbine practising a pirouette in sober sad- 
ness, nor Mr Grimaldi's face drop from mirth 



TO SIT IN THE BOXES; 



191 



to sudden melancholy as he passes the side- 
scene, as if a shadow crossed it, nor witness the 
long-chinned generation of the pantomime sit 
twirling their thumbs, nor overlook the fellow 
who holds the candle for the moon in the scene 
between Lorenzo and J essica ! Spare me this in- 
sight into secrets I am not bound to know. The 
stage is not a mistress that we are sworn to 
undress. Why should we look behind the glass 
of fashion ? Why should we prick the bubble 
that reflects the world, and turn it to a little 
soap and water ? Trust a little to first appear- 
ances — leave something to fancy. I observe 
that the great puppets of the real stage, who 
themselves play a grand part, like to get into 
the boxes over the stage ; where they see no- 
thing from the proper point of view, but peep 
and pry into what is going on like a magpie 
looking into a marrow-bone. This is just like 
them. So they look down upon human life, of 
which they are ignorant. They see the exits 
and entrances of the players, something that 
they suspect is meant to be kept from them (for 
they think they are always liable to be imposed 
upon) : the petty pageant of an hour ends with 
each scene long before the catastrophe, and the 
tragedy of life is turned to farce under their 
eyes. These people laugh loud at a pantomime, 
and are delighted with clowns and pantaloons. 



192 WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT, ETC. 

They pay no attention to anything else. The 
stage-boxes exist in contempt of the stage and 
common sense. The private boxes, on the con- 
trary, should be reserved as the receptacle for 
the officers of state and great diplomatic cha- 
racters, who wish to avoid, rather than court 
popular notice! 



ESSAY X, 

ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF INTELLECTUAL 
SUPERIORITY. 



The chief disadvantage of knowing more and 
seeing farther than others, is not to be generally 
understood. A man is, in consequence of this, 
liable to start paradoxes, which immediately 
transport him beyond the reach of the common- 
place reader. A person speaking once in a 
slighting manner of a very original-minded 
man, received for answer — "He strides on so 
far before you, that he dwindles in the dis- 
tance ! " 

Petrarch complains, that " Nature had made 
him different from other people " — singular' d' al- 
tra genti. The great happiness of life is, to be 
neither better nor worse than the general run of 
those you meet with. If you are beneath them, 
you are trampled upon ; if you are above them, 
you soon find a mortifying level in their indif- 
ference to what you particularly pique yourself 
upon. What is the use of being moral in a 

o 



194 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 



night-cellar, or wise in Bedlam ? "To be honest, 
as this world goes, is to be one man picked out 
of ten thousand." So says Shakespear ; and 
the commentators have not added that, under 
these circumstances, a man is more likely to be- 
come the butt of slander than the mark of ad- 
miration for being so. " How now, thou parti- 
cular fellow ? " * is the common answer to all 
such out-of-the-way pretensions. By not doing 
as those at Rome do, we cut ourselves off from 
good-fellowship and society. We speak another 
language, have notions of our own, and are 
treated as of a different species. Nothing can 
be more awkward than to intrude with any such 
ar- fetched ideas among the common herd, who 
will be sure to 

" Stand all astonied, like a sort of steers, 

'Mongst whom some beast of strange and foreign race 
Unwares is chanced, far straying from his peers : 
So will their ghastly gaze betray their hidden fears." 

Ignorance of another's meaning is a sufficient 
cause of fear, and fear produces hatred : hence 
the suspicion and rancour entertained against 
all those who set up for greater refinement and 
wisdom than their neighbours. It is in vain to 



* Jack Cade's salutation to one who tries to recom- 
mend himself by saying he can write and read. — See 
1 Henry VI,' Part Second. 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 195 



think of softening down this spirit of hostility 
by simplicity of manners, or by condescending 
to persons of lo*v estate. The more you con- 
descend, the more they will presume upon it ; 
they will fear you less, but hate you more ; and 
will be the more determined to take their re- 
venge on you for a superiority as to which they 
are entirely in the dark, and of which you your- 
self seem to entertain considerable doubts. All 
the humility in the world will only pass for 
weakness and folly. They have no notion of 
such a thing. They always put their best foot 
forward ; and argue that you would do the same 
if you had any such wonderful talents as people 
say. You had better, therefore, play off the 
great man at once — hector, swagger, talk big, 
and ride the high horse over them : you may 
by this means extort outward respect or com- 
mon civility; but you will get nothing (with 
low people) by forbearance and good-nature but 
open insult or silent contempt. Coleridge al- 
ways talks to people about what they don't un- 
derstand : I, for one, endeavour to talk to them 
about what they do understand, and find I only 
get the more ill-will by it. They conceive I do 
not think them capable of anything better; that 
I do not think it worth while, as the vulgar say- 
ing is, to " throw a word to a dog." I once com- 
plained of this to Coleridge, thinking it hard 
I should be sent to Coventry for not making a 



196 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 

prodigious display. He said, "As you assume 
a certain character, you ought to produce your 
credentials. It is a tax upo» people's good- 
nature to admit superiority of any kind, even 
where there is the most evident proof of it : but 
it is too hard a task for the imagination to admit 
„ it without any apparent ground at all." 

There is not a greater error than to suppose 
that you avoid the envy, malice, and uncharita- 
bleness so common in the world, by going 
among people without pretensions. There are 
no people who have no pretensions ; or the 
fewer their pretensions, the less they can afford 
to acknowledge yours without some sort of value 
received. The more information individuals 
possess, or the more they have refined upon 
any subject, the more readily can they conceive 
and admit the same kind of superiority to them- 
selves that they feel over others. But from the 
low, dull, level sink of ignorance and vulgarity, 
no idea or love of excellence can arise. You 
think you are doing mighty well with them ; 
that you are laying aside the buckram of pe- 
dantry and pretence, and getting the character 
of a plain, unassuming, good sort of fellow. It 
will not do. All the while that you are making 
these familiar advances, and wanting to be at 
your ease, they are trying to recover the wind 
of you. You may forget that you are an author, 
an artist, or what not — they do not forget that 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 197 



they are nothing, nor bate one jot of their de- 
sire to prove you in the same predicament. They 
take hold of some circumstance in your dress ; 
your manner of entering a room is different from 
that of other people ; you do not eat vegetables 
— that's odd; you have a particular phrase, 
which they repeat, and this becomes a sort of 
standing joke ; you look grave or ill ; you talk, 
or are more silent than usual ; you are in or out 
of pocket : all these petty, inconsiderable cir- 
cumstances, in which you resemble, or are unlike 
other people, form so many counts in the indict- 
ment which is going on in their imaginations 
against you, and are so many contradictions in 
your character. In any one else they would 
pass unnoticed, but in a person of whom they 
had heard so much, they cannot make them out 
at all. Meanwhile, those things in which you 
may really excel, go for nothing, because they 
cannot judge of them. They speak highly of 
some book which you do not like, and therefore 
you make no answer. You recommend them 
to go and see some picture, in which they do not 
find much to admire. How are you to convince 
them that you are right ? Can you make them 
perceive that the fault is in them, and not in the 
picture, unless you could give them your know- 
ledge? They hardly distinguish the difference 
between a Correggio and a common daub. Does 
this bring you any nearer to an understanding ? 



198 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 



The more you know of the difference, the more 
deeply you feel it, or the more earnestly you 
wish to convey it, the farther do you find 
yourself removed to an immeasurable distance 
from the possibility of making them enter into 
views and feelings of which they have not even 
the first rudiments. You cannot make them 
see with your eyes, and they must judge for 
themselves. 

Intellectual is not like bodily strength. You 
have no hold of the understanding of others but 
by their sympathy. Your knowing, in fact, so 
much more about a subject does not give you a 
superiority, that is, a power over them, but only 
renders it the more impossible for you to make 
the least impression on them. Is it then an 
advantage to you ? It may be, as it relates to 
your own private satisfaction, but it places a 
greater gulf between you and society. It throws 
stumbling-blocks in your way at every turn. All 
that you take most pride and pleasure in is lost 
upon the vulgar eye. What they are pleased with 
is a matter of indifference or of distaste to you. 
In seeing a number of persons turn over a port- 
folio of prints from different masters, what a 
trial it is to the patience, how it jars the nerves, 
to hear them fall into raptures at some common- 
place flimsy thing, and pass over some divine 
expression of countenance without notice, or 
with a remark that it is very singular-looking ? 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 199 



How useless is it in such cases to fret or argue, 
or remonstrate ? Is it not quite as well to be 
without all this hypercritcal, fastidious know- 
ledge, and to be pleased or displeased as it hap- 
pens, or struck with the first fault or beauty 
that is pointed out by others ? I would be 
glad almost to change my acquaintance with pic- 
tures, with books, and, certainly, what I know of 
mankind, for anybody's ignorance of them ! 

It is recorded in the life of some worthy 
(whose name I forget) that he was one of those 
" who loved hospitality and respect :" and I pro- 
fess to belong to the same classification of man- 
kind. Civility is with me a jewel. I like a 
little comfortable cheer, and careless, indolent 
chat. I hate to be always wise, or aiming at 
wisdom. I have enough to do with literary 
cabals, questions, critics, actors, essay-writing, 
without taking them out with me for recreation, 
and into all companies. I wish at these times to 
pass for a good-humored fellow; and good-will 
is all I ask in return to make good company. I 
do not desire to be always posing myself or 
others with the questions of fate, free-will, fore- 
knowledge absolute, &c. I must unbend some- 
times. I must occasionally lie fallow. The 
kind of conversation that I affect most is what 
sort of a day it is, and whether it is likely to 
rain or hold up fine for to-morrow. This I 
consider as enjoying the otium cum dignitate, as 



200 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 

the end and privilege of a life of study. I 
would resign myself to this state of easy indif- 
ference, but I find I cannot. I must maintain 
a certain pretension, which is far enough from 
my wish. I must be put on my defence, I must 
take up the gauntlet continually, or I find I lose 
ground. " I am nothing if not critical." While 
I am thinking what o'clock it is, or how I came 
to blunder in quoting a well-known passage, as 
if I had done it on purpose, others are thinking 
whether I am not really as dull a fellow as I 
am sometimes said to be. If a drizzling shower 
patters against the windows, it puts me in mind 
of a mild spring rain, from which I retired 
twenty years ago, into a little public house near 
Wem in Shropshire, and while I saw the plants 
and shrubs before the door imbibe the dewy 
moisture, quaffed a glass of sparkling ale, and 
walked home in the dusk of evening, brighter 
to me than noon-day suns at present are ! Would 
I indulge this feeling ? In vain. They ask me 
what news there is, and stare if I say I don't 
know. If a new actress has come out, why 
must I have seen her? If a new novel has 
appeared, why must I have read it ? I, at one 
time, used to go and take a hand at cribbage with 
a friend, and afterwards discuss a cold sirloin of 
beef, and throw out afewlack-a-daisical remarks, 
in a way to please myself, but it would not do 
long. I set up little pretension, and therefore 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 201 



the little that I did set up was taken from me* 
As I said nothing on that subject myself, it was 
continually thrown in my teeth that I was an 
author. From having me at this disadvantage, 
my friend wanted to peg on a hole or two in the 
game, and was displeased if I would not let him. 
If I won of him, it was hard he should be beat 
by an author. If he won, it would be strange 
if he did not understand the game better than I 
did. If I mentioned my favourite game of 
rackets, there was a general silence, as if this 
was my weak point. If I complained of being 
ill, it was asked why I made myself so ? If I 
said such an actor had played a part well, the 
answer was, there was a different account in one 
of the newspapers. If any allusion was made 
to men of letters, there was a suppressed smile. 
If I told a humorous story, it was difficult to 
say whether the laugh was at me or at the nar- 
rative. The wife hated me for my ugly face : 
the servants because I could not always get them 
tickets for the play, and because they could not 
tell exactly what an author meant. If a para- 
graph appeared against anything I had written, 
I found it was ready there before me, and I was 
to undergo a regular roasting. I submitted to 
all this till I was tired, and then I gave it up. 

One of the miseries of intellectual pretensions 
is, that nine-tenths of those you come in contact 
with do not know whether you are an impostor 



202 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 



or not. I dread that certain anonymous cri- 
ticisms should get into the hands of servants 
where I go, or that my hatter or shoemaker 
should happen to read them, who cannot pos- 
sibly tell whether they are well or ill founded. 
The ignorance of the world leaves one at the 
mercy of its malice. There are people whose 
good opinion or good will you want, setting 
aside all literary pretensions ; and it is hard to 
lose by an ill report (which you have no means 
of rectifying) what you cannot gain by a good 
one. After a diatribe in the ' Courier ' (which is 
taken in by a gentleman who occupies my old 
apartments on the first floor) my landlord brings 
me up his bill (of some standing), and on my 
offering to give him so much in money, and a 
note of hand for the rest, shakes his head, and 
says, he is afraid he could make no use of it. 
Soon after, the daughter comes in, and, on my 
mentioning the circumstance carelessly to her, 
replies gravely, " that indeed her father has 
been almost ruined by bills. 99 This is the un- 
kindest cut of all. It is in vain for me to en- 
deavour to explain that the publication in which 
I am abused is a mere government engine — an 
organ of a political faction. They know nothing 
about that. They only know such and such 
imputations are thrown out ; and the more I try 
to remove them, the more they think there is 
some truth in them. Perhaps the people of the 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 203 



house are strong Tories — government-agents of 
some sort. Is it for me to enlighten their ig- 
norance ? If I say, I once wrote a thing called 
' Prince Maurice's Parrot/ and an 6 Essay on the 
Regal Character/ in the former of which allu- 
sion is made to a noble marquis, and in the latter 
to a great personage (so at least, I am told, it 
has been construed), and that Mr Croker has 
peremptory instructions to retaliate ; they cannot 
conceive what connexion there can be between 
me and such distinguished characters. I can 
get no farther. Such is the misery of preten- 
sions beyond your situation, and which are not 
backed by any external symbols of wealth or 
rank, intelligible to all mankind. 

The impertinence of admiration is scarcely 
more tolerable than the demonstrations of con- 
tempt. I have known a person, whom I had 
never seen before, besiege me all dinner-time 
with asking, what articles I had written in the 
' Edinburgh Review ? ' I was at last ashamed to 
answer to my splendid sins in that way. Others 
will pick out something not yours, and say, they 
are sure no one else could write it. By the first 
sentence they can always tell your style. Now 
I hate my style to be known ; as I hate all 
idiosyncrasy. These obsequious flatterers could 
not pay me a worse compliment. Then there 
are those who make a point of reading every- 
thing you write (which is fulsome); while others, 



204 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 



more provoking, regularly lend your works to a 
friend as soon as they receive them. They 
pretty well know your notions on the different 
subjects, from having heard you talk about them. 
Besides, they have a greater value for your 
personal character than they have for your wri- 
tings. You explain things better in a common 
way, when you are not aiming at effect. Others 
tell you of the faults they have heard found with 
your last book, and that they defend your style 
in general from a charge of obscurity. A friend 
once told me of a quarrel he had had with a 
near relation, who denied that I knew how to 
spell the commonest words. These are comfort- 
able confidential communications, to which au- 
thors, who have their friends and excusers, are 
subject. A gentleman told me, that a lady had 
objected to my use of the word learneder, as bad 
grammar. He said, he thought it a pity that I 
did not take more care, but that the lady was 
perhaps prejudiced, as her husband held a go- 
vernment office. I looked for the word, and 
found it in a motto from Butler. I was piqued, 
and desired him to tell the fair critic that the 
fault was not in me, but in one who had far 
more wit, more learning, and loyalty than I 
could pretend to. Then, again, some will pick 
out the flattest thing of yours they can find, to 
load it with panegyrics ; and others tell you (by 
way of letting you see how high they rank your 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 205 



capacity), that your best passages are failures. 
Lamb has a knack of tasting (or as he would say, 
palating) the insipid : Leigh Hunt has a trick 
of turning away from the relishing morsels you 
put on his plate. There is no getting the start 
of some people. Do what you will, they can 
do it better ; meet with what success you may, 
their own good opinion stands them in better 
stead, and runs before the applause of the world. 
I once showed a person of this over- weening 
turn (with no small triumph, I confess) a letter 
of a very flattering description I had received 
from the celebrated Count Stendhal, dated 
Rome. He returned it with a smile of in- 
difference, and said, he had had a letter from 
Rome himself the day before, from his friend 

S ! I did not think this " germane to the 

matter." Godwin pretends I never wrote any- 
thing worth a farthing but my answers to Vetus, 
and that I fail altogether when I attempt to 
write an essay, or anything in a short compass. 

What can one do in such cases ? Shall I con- 
fess a weakness? The only set-off I know to 
these rebuffs and mortifications, is sometimes in 
an accidental notice or involuntary mark of dis- 
tinction from a stranger. I feel the force of 
Horace's digito monstrari — I like to be pointed 
out in the street, or to hear people ask in Mr 
Powell's court, which is Mr Hazlitt? This is 
to me a pleasing extension of one's personal 



206 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 



identity. Your name so repeated leaves an echo 
like music on the ear : it stirs the blood like the 
sound of a trumpet. It shows that other people 
are curious to see you : that they think of you, 
and feel an interest in you without your know- 
ing it. This is a bolster to lean upon a lining 
to your poor, shivering, threadbare opinion of 
yourself. You want some such cordial to ex- 
hausted spirits, and relief to the dreariness of 
abstract speculation. You are something ; and, 
from occupying a place in the thoughts of others, 
think less contemptuously of yourself. You are 
the better able to run the gauntlet of prejudice 
and vulgar abuse. It is pleasant in this way to 
have your opinion quoted against yourself, and 
your own sayings repeated to you as good things. 
I was once talking with an intelligent man in 
the pit, and criticising Mr Knight's perform- 
ance of Filch. " Ah ! " he said, " little Simmons 
was the fellow to play that character." He 
added, " There was a most excellent remark 
made upon his acting it in the Examiner (I 
think it was) — That he looked as if he had the 
gallows in one eye and a pretty girl in the other" 
I said nothing, but was in remarkably good hu- 
mour the rest of the evening. I have seldom 
been in a company where fives-playing has been 
talked of, but some one has asked, in the course 
of it, " Pray did any one ever see an account of 
one Cavanagh, that appeared some time back in 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 207 



most of the papers ? Is it known who wrote 
it?" These are trying moments. I had a tri- 
umph over a person, whose name I will not 
mention, on the following occasion. I hap- 
pened to be saying something about Burke, and 
was expressing my opinion of his talents in 
no measured terms, when this gentleman inter- 
rupted me by saying, he thought, for his part, 
that Burke had been greatly over-rated, and then 
added, in a careless way, " Pray did you read a 
character of him in the last number of the 
Edinburgh Review ? " — " I wrote it ! " — I could 
not resist the antithesis, but was afterwards 
ashamed of my momentary petulance. Yet no 
one, that I find, ever spares me. 

Some persons seek out and obtrude them- 
selves on public characters, in order, as it might 
seem, to pick out their failings, and afterwards 
betray them. Appearances are for it, but truth 
and a better knowledge of nature are against 
this interpretation of the matter. Sycophants 
and flatterers are undesignedly treacherous and 
fickle. They are prone to admire inordinately 
at first, and not finding a constant supply of 
food for this kind of sickly appetite, take a dis- 
taste to the object of their idolatry. To be even 
with themselves for their credulity, they sharpen 
their wits to spy out faults, and are delighted 
to find that this answers better than their first 
employment. It is a course of study, " lively, 



208 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 

audible, and full of vent." They have the organ 
of wonder and the organ of fear in a prominent 
degree. The first requires new objects of ad- 
miration to satisfy its uneasy cravings : the se- 
cond makes them crouch to power wherever its 
shifting standard appears, and willing to curry 
favour with all parties, and ready to betray any 
out of sheer weakness and servility. I do not 
think they mean any harm. At least, I can look 
at this obliquity with indifference in my own 
particular case. I have been more disposed to 
resent it as I have seen it practised upon others, 
where T have been better able to judge of the 
extent of the mischief, and the heartlessness and 
idiot folly it discovered. 

I do not think great intellectual attainments 
are any recommendation to the women. They 
puzzle them, and are a diversion to the main 
question. If scholars talk to ladies of what 
they understand, their hearers are none the 
wiser : if they talk of other things, they only 
prove themselves fools. The conversation be- 
tween Angelica and Foresight, in ' Love for Love/ 
is a receipt in full for all such overstrained non- 
sense : while he is wandering among the signs 
of the zodiac, she is standing a tip-toe on the 
earth. It has been remarked that poets do not 
choose mistresses very wisely. I believe it is 
not choice but necessity. If they could throw 
the handkerchief like the Grand Turk, I irna- 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 209 



gine we should see scarce mortals, but rather 
goddesses surrounding their steps, and each 
exclaiming, with Lord Byron's own Ionian 
maid — 

" So shalt thou find me ever at thy side, 
Here and hereafter, if the last may be ! " 

Ah ! no, these are bespoke, carried off by men 
of mortal, not ethereal mould, and thenceforth 
the poet, from whose mind the ideas of love and 
beauty are inseparable as dreams from sleep, 
goes on the forlorn hope of the passion, and 
dresses up the first Dulcinea that will take com- 
passion on him, in all the colours of fancy. 
What boots it to complain if the delusion lasts 
for life, and the rainbow still paints its form in 
the cloud ? 

There is one mistake I would wish, if pos- 
sible, to correct. Men of letters, artists, and 
others, not succeeding with women in a certain 
rank of life, think the objection is to their want 
of fortune, and that they shall stand a better 
chance by descending lower, where only their 
good qualities or talents will be thought of. 
Oh! worse and worse. The objection is to 
themselves, not to their fortune — to their ab- 
straction, to their absence of mind, to their un- 
intelligible and romantic notions. Women, of 
education may have a glimpse of their meaning, 
may get a clue to their character, but to all 

p 



210 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF 



others they are thick darkness. If the mistress 
smiles at their ideal advances, the maid will 
laugh outright ; she will throw water over you, 
get her little sister to listen, send her sweet- 
heart to ask you what you mean, will set the 
village or the house upon your back ; it will be 
a farce, a comedy, a standing jest for a year, 
and then the murder will out. Scholars should 
be sworn at Highgate. They are no match for 
chamber maids, or wenches at lodging houses. 
They had better try their hands on heiresses or 
ladies of quality. These last have high notions 
of themselves that may fit some of your epithets ' 
They are above mortality, so are your thoughts ! 
But with low life, trick, ignorance, and cunning, 
you have nothing in common. Whoever you 
are, that think you can make a compromise or 
a conquest there by good nature, or good sense, 
be warned by a friendly voice, and retreat in 
time from the unequal contest. 

If as I have said above, scholars are no match 
for chambermaids, on the other hand, gentle- 
men are no match for blackguards. The former 
are on their honour, act on the square ; the lat- 
ter take all advantages, and have no idea of any 
other principle. It is astonishing how soon a 
fellow without education will learn to cheat. 
He is impervious to any ray of liberal know- 
ledge; his understanding is 

" Not pierceable by power of any star " — 



INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY. 211 



but it is porous to all sorts of tricks, chicanery, 
stratagems, and knavery, by which anything is 
to be got. Mrs Peachurn, indeed, says, that 
" to succeed at the gaming table, the candidate 
should have the education of a nobleman." I 
do not know how far this example contradicts 
my theory. I think it is a rule that men in 
business should not be taught other things. Any 
one will be almost sure to make money who 
has no other idea in his head. A college edu- 
cation, or intense study of abstract truth, will 
not enable a man to drive a bargain, to over- 
reach another, or even to guard himself from 
being over-reached. As Shakespear says, that 
" to have a good face is the effect of study, but 
reading and writing come by nature:" so it 
might be argued, that to be a knave is the gift 
of fortune, but to play the fool to advantage it 
is necessary to be a learned man. The best 
politicians are not those who are deeply grounded 
in mathematical or in ethical science. Rules 
stand in the way of expediency. Many a man 
has been hindered from pushing his fortune in 
the world by an early cultivation of his moral 
sense, and has repented of it at leisure during 
the rest of his life. A shrewd man said of my 
father, that he would not send a son of his to 
school to him on any account, for that by teach- 
ing him to speak the truth, he would disqualify 
him from getting his living in the world ! 



212 ON THE DISADVANTAGES OF, ETC. 

It is hardly necessary to add any illustration 
to prove that the most original and profound 
thinkers are not always the most successful or 
popular writers. This is not merely a temporary 
disadvantage ; but many great philosophers have 
not only been scouted while they were living, 
but forgotten as soon as they were dead. The 
name of Hobbes is perhaps sufficient to explain 
this assertion. But I do not wish to go farther 
into this part of the subject, which is obvious 
in itself. I have said, I believe, enough to take 
off the air of paradox which hangs over the title 
of this Essay. 



ESSAY XL 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



" A gentle usher, Vanity by name." — Spenser. 

A lady was complaining to a friend of mine 
of the credulity of people in attending to quack 
advertisements, and wondering who could be 
taken in by them — " for that she had never 

bought but one half-guinea bottle of Dr 's 

Elixir of Life, and it had done her no sort of 
good ! " This anecdote seemed to explain pretty 
well what made it worth the doctor's while to 
advertise his wares in every newspaper in the 
kingdom. He would no doubt be satisfied if 
every delicate, sceptical invalid, in his majesty's 
dominions, gave his Elixir one trial, merely to 
show the absurdity of the thing. We affect to 
laugh at the folly of those who put faith in 
nostrums, but are willing to see ourselves whe- 
ther there is any truth in them. 

There is a strong tendency in the human 
mind to flatter itself with secret hopes, with 



214 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 

some lucky reservation in our own favour, 
though reason may point out the grossness of 
the trick in general ; and, besides, there is a 
wonderful power in words, formed into regular 
propositions, and printed in capital letters, to 
draw the assent after them, till we have proof 
of their fallacy. The ignorant and idle believe 
what they read, as Scotch philosophers demon- 
strate the existence of a material world, and 
other learned propositions, from the evidence 
of their senses. The ocular proof is all that is 
wanting in either case. As hypocrisy is said to 
be the highest compliment to virtue, the art of 
lying is the strongest acknowledgment of the 
force of truth. We can hardly believe a thing 
to be a lie, though we know it to be so. The 
" puff direct," even as it stands in the columns 
of the 1 Times ' newspaper, branded with the 
title of Advertisement before it, claims some 
sort of attention and respect for the merits that 
it discloses, though we think the candidate for 
public favour and support has hit upon (perhaps) 
an injudicious way of laying them before the 
world. Still there may be something in them ; 
and even the outrageous improbability and ex- 
travagance of the statement on the very face of 
it, stagger us, and leave a hankering to inquire 
farther into it, because we think the advertiser 
would hardly have the impudence to hazard 
such barefaced absurdities without some founda- 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 215 

tion. Such is the strength of the association 
between words and things in the mind — so 
much oftener must our credulity have been 
justified by the event than imposed upon. If 
every second story we heard was an invention, 
we should lose our mechanical disposition to 
trust to the meaning of sounds, just as when we 
have met with a number of counterfeit pieces of 
coin, we suspect good ones ; but our implicit as- 
sent to what we hear is a proof how much more 
sincerity and good faith there is in the sum total 
of our dealings with one another, than artifice 
and imposture. 

" To elevate and surprise " is the great art of 
quackery and puffing ; to raise a lively and 
exaggerated image in the mind, and take it by 
surprise before it can recover breath, as it were ; 
so that by having been caught in the trap, it is 
unwilling to retract entirely — has a secret desire 
to find itself in the right, and a determination to 
see whether it is or not. Describe a picture as 
lofty, imposing, and grand, these words ex- 
cite certain ideas in the mind like the sound of 
a trumpet, which are not to be quelled, except 
by seeing the picture itself, nor even then if it 
is viewed by the help of a catalogue, written 
expressly for the occasion by the artist himself. 
It is not to be supposed that he would say such 
things of his picture, unless they were allowed 
by all the world ; and he repeats them, on this 



216 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



gentle understanding, till all the world allows 
them.* So reputation runs in a vicious circle, 
and merit limps behind it, mortified and abashed 
at its own insignificance. It has been said that 
the test of fame or popularity is to consider the 
number of times your name is repeated by others, 
or is brought to their recollection in the course 
of a year. At this rate, a man has his reputa- 
tion in his own hands, and by the help of puffing 
and the press, may forestal the voice of pos- 
terity, and stun the "groundling" ear of his 
contemporaries. A name let off in your hear- 
ing continually, with some bouncing epithet 
affixed to it, startles you like the report of a 
pistol close at your ear: you cannot help the 
effect upon the imagination, though you know 
it is perfectly harmless — vox et prceterea nihil. 
So, if you see the same name staring you in the 
face in great letters, at the corner of every 
street, you involuntarily think the owner of it 
must be a great man to occupy so large a space 
in the eye of the town. The appeal is made, 
in the first instance, to the senses, but it sinks 
below the surface into the mind. There are 
some, indeed, who publish their own disgrace, 
and make their names a common by- word and 



* It is calculated that West cleared some hundred 
pounds by the catalogues that sold of his great picture 
of Death riding on the Pale Horse. 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 217 

nuisance, notoriety being all that they want. A 
quack gets himself surreptitiously dubbed Doc- 
tor or Knight ; and though you may laugh in 
his face, it pays expenses. Parolles and his 
drum typify many a modern adventurer, and 
court-candidate, for unearned laurels and un- 
blushing honours. Of all puffs, lottery-puffs 
are the most ingenious and most innocent. A 
collection of them would make an amusing Vade 
mecum. They are still various and the same, 
with that infinite ruse with which they lull the 
reader at the outset out of all suspicion, the in- 
sinuating turn in the middle, the home-thrust 
at the ruling passion at last, by which your spare 
cash is conjured clean out of the pocket in spite 
of resolution, by the same stale, well-known, 
thousandth- time repeated, artifice of "All prizes 
and No blanks" -—a self-evident imposition ! No- 
thing, however, can be a stronger proof of the 
power of fascinating the public judgment 
through the eye alone, I know a gentleman 
who amassed a considerable fortune (so as to 
be able to keep his carriage) by printing no- 
thing but lottery placards and hand-bills of a 
colossal size. Another friend of mine (of no 
mean talents) was applied to (a snug thing 
in the way of business) to write regular lottery- 
puffs for a large house in the city, and on having 
a parcel of samples returned on his hands as 
done in too severe and terse a style, complained 
quaintly enough, "That modest merit never 



218 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 

could succeed ! " Even Lord Byron, as he 
tells us, has been accused of writing lottery- 
puffs. There are various ways of playing one's 
self off before the public, and keeping one's name 
alive. The newspapers, the lamp-posts, the 
walls of empty houses, the shutters of windows, 
the blank covers of magazines and reviews, are 
open to every one. I have heard of a man of 
literary celebrity sitting in his study writing 
letters of remonstrance to himself, on the gross 
defects of a plan of education he had just pub- 
lished, and which remained unsold on the 
bookseller's counter. Another feigned himself 
dead in order to see what would be said of him 
in the newspapers, and to excite a sensation in 
this way. A flashy pamphlet has been run 
to a five-and-thirtieth edition, and thus ensured 
the writer a " deathless date " among political 
charlatans, by regularly striking off a new title- 
page to every fifty or a hundred copies that 
were sold. This is a vile practice. It is an 
erroneous idea got abroad (and which I will 
contradict here) that paragraphs are paid for in 
the leading Journals. It is quite out of question. 
A favourable notice of an author, an actress, &c, 
may be inserted through interest or to oblige a 
friend, but it must invariably be done for love, 
not money ! 

When I formerly had to do with these sort 
of critical verdicts, I was generally sent out of 
the way when any debutant had a friend at court, 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



219 



and was to be tenderly handled. For the rest, 
or those of robust constitutions, I had carte 
blanche given me. Sometimes I ran out of the 
course, to be sure. Poor Perry ! what bitter 
complaints he used to make, that by running-a- 
muck at lords and Scotchmen I should not leave 
him a place to dine out at ! The expression of 
his face at these moments, as if he should shortly 
be without a friend in the world, was truly 
pitiable. What squabbles we used to have about 
Kean and Miss Stephens, the only theatrical 
favourites I ever had ! Mrs Billington had got 
some notion that Miss Stephens would never 
make a singer, and it was the torment of Perry's 
life (as he told me in confidence) that he could 
not get any two people to be of the same opin- 
ion on any one point. I shall not easily forget 
bringing him my account of her first appearance 
in the ( Beggar's Opera.' I have reason to re- 
member that article : it was almost the last T 
ever wrote with any pleasure to myself. I had 
been down on a visit to my friends near Chert- 
sey, and, on my return, had stopped at an inn at 
Kingston-upon-Thames, where I had got the 
' Beggar's Opera/ and had read it over night. 
The next day I walked cheerfully to town. It 
was a fine sunny morning, in the end of autumn, 
and as I repeated the beautiful song, " Life 
knows no return of spring," I meditated my 
next day's criticism, trying to do all the justice 



220 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 

I could to so inviting a subject. I was not a 
little proud of it by anticipation. I had just 
then begun to stammer out my sentiments on 
paper, and was in a kind of honey-moon of au- 
thorship. But soon after, my final hopes of 
happiness, and of human liberty, where blighted 
nearly at the same time ; and since then I have 
had no pleasure in anything : — 

" And Love himself can flatter me no more." 

It was not so ten years since (ten short years 
since. — Ah ! how fast those years run that hurry 
us away from our last fond dream of bliss !) 
when I loitered along thy green retreats, oh ! 
Twickenham, and conned over (with enthusiastic 
delight) the checquered view, which one of thy 
favourites drew of human life ! I deposited my 
account of the play at the 6 Morning Chronicle 9 
office in the afternoon, and went to see Miss 
Stephens as Polly. Those were happy times 
in which she first came out in this character, in 
Mandane, where she sang the delicious air, 
" If o'er the cruel tyrant, Love " (so as it can 
never be sung again) in i Love in a Village/ where 
the scene opened with her and Miss Matthews 
in a painted garden of roses and honeysuckles, 
and " Hope, thou nurse of young Desire," 
thrilled from two sweet voices in turn. Oh ! 
may my ears sometimes still drink the same 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 221 

sweet sounds, embalmed with the spirit of youth, 
of health, and joy, but in the thoughts of an in- 
stant, but in a dream of fancy, and I shall hardly 
need to complain ! When I got back, after the 
play, Perry called out, with his cordial, grating 
voice, " Well, how did she do ? 99 and on my 
speaking in high terms, answered that, " he had 
been to dine with his friend the Duke, that some 
conversation had passed on the subject, he was 
afraid it was not the thing, it was not the true 
sostenuto style; but as I had written the article " 
(holding my peroration on the i Beggar's Opera' 
carelessly in his hand) "it might pass!" I could 
perceive that the rogue licked his lips at it, and 
had already in imagination "bought golden 
opinions of all sorts of people " by this very cri- 
ticism, and I had the satisfaction the next day to 
meet Miss Stephens coming out of the Editor's 
room, who had been to thank him for his very 
flattering account of her. 

I was sent to see Kean the first night of his 
performance in Shylock, when there were about 
a hundred people in the pit, but from his mas- 
terly and spirited delivery of the first striking 
speech, " On such a day you called me dog," &c. 
I perceived it was a hollow thing. So it was 
given out in the ' Chronicle,' but Perry was con- 
tinually at me as other people were at him, and 
was afraid it would not last. It was to no pur- 
pose I said it would last: yet I am in the right 
hitherto. It has been said, ridiculously, that 



222 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



Mr Kean was written up in the 6 Chronicle.' I 
beg leave to state my opinion that no actor can 
be written up or down by a paper. An author 
may be puffed into notice, or damned by criti- 
cism, because his book may not have been read. 
An artist may be over-rated, or undeservedly 
decried, because the public is not much accus- 
tomed to see or judge of pictures. But an actor 
is judged by his peers, the play-going public, 
and must stand or fall by his own merits or de- 
fects. The critic may give the tone or have a 
casting voice where popular opinion is divided ; 
but he can no more force that opinion either 
way, or wrest it from its base in common-sense 
and feeling, than he can move Stonehenge. Mr 
Kean had, however, physical disadvantages and 
strong prejudices to encounter, and so far the 
liberal and independent part of the press might 
have been of service in helping him to his seat 
in the public favour. May he long keep it with 
dignity and firmness ! * 



* I cannot say how in this respect it might have fared 
if Mr Mudford, a fat gentleman, who might not have 
" liked yon lean and hungry Roscius," had continued in 
the theatrical department of Mr Perry's paper at the 
time of this actor's first appearance ; but I had been 
put upon this duty just before, and afterwards Mr Mud- 
ford's spare talents were not in much request. This, I 
believe, is the reason why he takes pains every now and 
then to inform the readers of the 1 Courier ' that it is 
impossible for any one to understand a word that I write. 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 223 

It was pretended by the Covent-garden peo- 
ple, and some others at the time, that Mr 
Kean's popularity was a mere effect of love of 
novelty, a nine days' wonder, like the rage after 
Master Betty's acting, and would be as soon 
over. The comparison did not hold. Master 
Betty's acting was so far wonderful, and drew 
crowds to see it as a mere singularity, because 
he was a boy. Mr Kean was a grown man, 
and there was no rule or precedent established 
in the ordinary course of nature why some other 
man should not appear in tragedy as great as 
John Kemble. Farther, Master Betty's acting 
was a singular phenomenon, but it was also as 
beautiful as it was singular. I saw him in the part 
of Douglas, and he seemed almost like " some 
gay creature of the element," moving about 
gracefully, with all the flexibility of youth, and 
murmuring iEolian sounds with plaintive ten- 
derness. I shall never forget the way in which 
he repeated the line in which Young Norval 
says, speaking of the fate of two brothers : — 

" And in my mind happy was he that died ! " 

The tones fell and seemed to linger prophetic 
on my ear. Perhaps the wonder was made 
greater than it was. Boys at that age can often 
read remarkably well, and certainly are not 
without natural grace and sweetness of voice. 
The Westminster school-boys are a better com- 



224 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



pany of comedians than we find at most of our 
theatres. As to the understanding a part like 
Douglas, at least, I see no difficulty on that 
score. I myself used to recite the speech in 
Enfield's ' Speaker' with good emphasis and dis- 
cretion when at school, and entered, about the 
same age, into the wild sweetness of the senti- 
ments in Mrs Radcliffe's c Romance of the 
Forest,' I am sure, quite as much as I should do 
now. Yet the same experiment has been often 
tried since, and has uniformly failed.* 

It was soon after this that Coleridge returned 
from Italy, and he got one day into a long tirade 
to explain what a ridiculous farce the whole 

* I (not very long ago) had the pleasure of spending 
an evening with Mr Betty, when we had some " good 
talk " about the good old times of acting. I wanted to 
insinuate that I had been a sneaking admirer, but could 
not bring it in. As, however, we were putting on our 
great coats down stairs, I ventured to break the ice by 
saying, "There is one actor of that period of whom 
we have not made honourable mention ; I mean Master 
Betty." " Oh ! " he said, " I have forgot all that." I re- 
plied, that he might, but that I could not forget the pleasure 
I had had in seeing him. On which he turned off, and 
shaking his sides heartily, and with no measured de- 
mand upon his lungs, called out, " Oh, memory ! memory !" 
in a way that showed he felt the full force of the allusion. 
I found afterwards that the subject did not offend, and 
we were to have drunk some Burton -ale together the 
following evening, but were prevented. I hope he will 
consider that the engagement still stands good. 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 225 

was, and how all the people abroad were shocked 
at the gullibility of the English nation, who on 
this and every other occasion were open to the 
artifices of all sorts of quacks, wondering how 
any persons with the smallest pretensions to 
common-sense could for a moment suppose 
that a boy could act the characters of men 
without any of their knowledge, their expe- 
rience, or their passions. We made some faint 
resistance, but in vain. The discourse then 
took a turn, and Coleridge began a laboured 
eulogy on some promising youth, the son of an 
English artist, whom he had met in Italy, and 
who had wandered all over the Campagna with 
him, whose talents, he assured us, were the ad- 
miration of all Rome, and whose early designs 
had almost all the grace and purity of Ra- 
phael's. At last some one interrupted the 
endless theme by saying a little impatiently, 
" Why just now you would not let us believe 
our own eyes and ears about young Betty, be- 
cause you have a theory against premature ta- 
lents, and now you start a boy phenomenon, 
that nobody knows anything about but your- 
self — a young artist that, you tell us, is to rival 
Raphael ! " The truth is, we like to have some- 
thing to admire ourselves, as well as to make 
other people gape and stare at; but then it must 
be a discovery of our own, an idol of our own 
making and setting up : — if others stumble on 

Q 



226 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



the discovery before us, or join in crying it up 
to the skies, we then set to work to prove that 
this is a vulgar delusion, and show our sagacity 
and freedom from prejudice by pulling it in 
pieces with all the coolness imaginable. Whe- 
ther we blow the bubble or crush it in our 
hands, vanity and the desire of empty distinc- 
tion are equally at the bottom of our sanguine 
credulity or fastidious scepticism. There are 
some who always fall in with the fashionable 
prejudice as others affect singularity of opinion 
on all such points, according as they think they 
have more or less wit to judge for themselves. 

If a little varnishing and daubing, a little 
puffing and quacking, and giving yourself a 
good name, and getting a friend to speak a 
word for you, is excusable in any profession, it 
is, I think, in that of painting. Painting is an 
occult science, and requires a little ostentation 
and mock- gravity in the professor. A man may 
here rival Katterfelto, " with his hair on end at 
his own wonders, wondering for his bread 
for, if he does not, he may in the end go with- 
out it. He may ride on a high trotting horse, 
in green spectacles, and attract notice to his 
person any how he can, if he only works hard 
at his profession. If " it only is when he is out 
he is acting," let him make the fools stare, but 
give others something worth looking at. Good 
Mr Carver and Gilder, good Mr Printer's 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 227 



Devil, good Mr Bill-sticker, " do me your 
offices " unmolested ! Painting is a plain ground, 
and requires a great many heraldic quarterings 
and facings to set it off. Lay on, and do not 
spare. No man's merit can be fairly judged of, 
if he is not known ; and how can he be known, 
if he keeps entirely in the background?* A 
great name in art goes but a little way, is chilled 
as it creeps along the surface of the world, with- 
out something to revive and make it blaze out 
with fresh splendour. Fame is here almost ob- 
scurity. It is long before your name affixed to 
a sterling design will be spelt out by an un- 
discerning, regardless public. Have it pro- 
claimed, therefore, as a necessary precaution, 
by sound of trumpet at the corners of the street, 
let it be stuck as a label in your mouth, carry 
it on a placard at your back. Otherwise, the 
world will never trouble themselves about you, 
or will very soon forget you. A celebrated 
artist of the present day, whose name is en- 
graved at the bottom of some of the most 
touching specimens of English art, once had a 
frame-maker call on him, who, on entering his 
room, exclaimed with some surprise, " What, 

* Sir Joshua, who was not a vain man, purchased a 
tawdry sheriffs carriage, soon after he took his house in 
Leicester fields, and desired his sister to ride about in it, 
in order that people might ask, " Whose it was ? " and 
the answer would be, "It belongs to the great painter I" 



228 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



are you a painter, sir ? " The other made an- 
swer, a little startled in his turn, " Why, didn't 
you know that ? Did you never see my name at 
the bottom of prints?" He could not recollect 
that he had. " And yet you sell picture-frames 
and prints ? " " Yes." " What painter's names 
then did he recollect : Did he know West's?" 
" Oh ! yes." " And Opie's ? " " Yes." " And 
Fuseli's?" "Oh! yes." "But you never 
heard of me ? " I cannot say that I ever 
did ! " It was plain, from this conversation, 
that Mr Northcote had not kept company enough 
with picture-dealers and newspaper critics. On 
another occasion, a country-gentleman, who 
was sitting to him for his portrait, asked him if 
he had any pictures in the Exhibition at Somer- 
set-house, and on his replying in the affirmative, 
desired to know what they were. He mentioned 
among others, "The Marriage of Two Chil- 
dren ; " on which the gentleman expressed great 
surprise, and said that was the very picture his 
w T ife was always teasing him to go and have 
another look at, though he had never noticed 
the painter's name. When the public are so 
eager to be amused, and care so little who it is 
that amuses them, it is not amiss to remind 
them of it now and then ; or even to have a 
stafling taught to repeat the name, to which 
they owe such misprized obligations, in their 
drowsy ears. On any other principle, I cannot 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



229 



conceive how painters (not without genius or 
industry) can fling themselves at the head of the 
public in the manner they do, having lives written 
of themselves, busts made of themselves, prints 
stuck in the shop-windows of themselves, and 
their names placed in " the first row of the ru- 
bric," with those of Rubens, Raphael, and Mi- 
chael Angelo, swearing by themselves or their 
proxies that these glorified spirits would do well 
to leave the abodes of the blest in order to stand 
in mute wonder and with uplifted hands before 
some production of theirs, which is yet hardly 
dry ! Oh ! whatever you do, leave the string un- 
touched. It will jar the rash and unhallowed 
hand that meddles with it. Profane not the 
mighty dead by mixing them up with the un- 
canonized living. Leave yourself a reversion 
in immortality, beyond the noisy clamour of the 
day. Do not quite lose your respect for public 
opinion by making it in all cases a palpable 
cheat, the echo of your own lungs that arc 
hoarse with calling on the world to admire. Do 
not think to bully posterity, or to cozen your 
contemporaries. Be not always anticipating 
the effect of your picture on the town — think 
more about deserving success than commanding 
it. In issuing so many promissory notes upon 
the bank of fame, do not forget you have to pay 
in sterling gold. Believe that there is some- 
thing in the pursuit of high art, beyond the 



230 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 

manufacture of a paragraph or the collection of 
receipts at the door of an exhibition. Venerate 
art as art. Study the works of others, and in- 
quire into those of nature. Gaze at beauty. 
Become great by great efforts, and not by 
pompous pretensions. Do not think the world 
was blind to merit before your time, nor make 
the reputation of great genius the stalking 
horse to your vanity. You have done enough 
to insure yourself attention : you have now only 
to do something to deserve it, and to make good 
all that you have aspired to do ! 

There is a silent and systematic assumption 
of superiority which is as barefaced and un- 
principled an imposture as the most impudent 
puffing. You may, by a tacit or avowed cen- 
sure on all other arts, on all works of art, 
on all other pretensions, tastes, talents, but 
your own, produce a complete ostracism in the 
world of intellect, and leave yourself and your 
own performances alone standing, a mighty 
monument in an universal waste and wreck of 
genius. By cutting away the rude block and 
removing the rubbish ftom around it, the idol 
may be effectually exposed to view, placed on 
its pedestal of pride, without any other assist- 
ance. This method is more inexcusable than 
the other. For there is no egotism or vanity 
so hateful as that which strikes at our satisfac- 
tion in everything else, and derives its nourish- 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 231 



ment from preying, like the vampyre, on the 
carcase of others' reputation. I would rather, 
in a word, that a man should talk for ever of 
himself with vapid senseless assurance, than 
preserve a malignant, heartless silence, when 
the merit of a rival is mentioned. I have seen 
instances of both, and can judge pretty well 
between them. 

There is no great harm in putting forward 
one's own pretensions (of whatever kind), if this 
does not bear a sour, malignant aspect towards 
others. Every one sets himself off to the best 
advantage he can, and tries to steal a march 
upon public opinion. In this sense, too, " all 
the world's a stage, and all the men and women 
merely players." Life itself is a piece of harm- 
less quackery. A great house over your head 
is of no use but to announce the great man 
within. Dress, equipage, title, livery-servants, 
are only so many quack advertisements and 
assumptions of the question of merit. The star 
that glitters at the breast would be worth no- 
thing but as a badge of personal distinction ; 
and the crown itself is but a symbol of the vir- 
tues which the possessor inherits from a long 
line of illustrious ancestors ! How much honour 
and honesty have been forfeited to be graced 
with a title or a ribbon ; how much genius and 
worth have sunk to the grave, without an escut- 
cheon and without an epitaph ! 



232 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 

As men of rank and fortune keep lacqueys to 
reinforce their claims to self-respect, so men of 
genius sometimes surround themselves with a 
coterie of admirers to increase their reputation 
with the public. These proneurs, or satellites, 
repeat all their good things, laugh loud at all 
their jokes, and remember all their oracular de- 
crees. They are their shadows and echoes. 
They talk of them in all companies, and bring 
back word of all that has been said about them. 
They hawk the good qualities of their patrons, 
as shopmen and barkers tease you to buy 
goods. I have no notion of this vanity at se- 
cond-hand 5 nor can I see how this servile tes- 
timony from inferiors (" some followers of mine 
own") can be a proof of merit. It may soothe 
the ear ; but that it should impose on the un- 
derstanding, I own surprises me : yet there are 
persons who cannot exist without a cortege of 
this kind about them, in which they smiling 
read the opinion of the world, in the midst of 
all sorts of rancorous abuse and hostility, as 
Otho called for his mirror in the Illyrian field. 
One good thing is, that this evil, in some degree, 
cures itself ; and when a man has been nearly 
ruined by a herd of these sycophants, he finds 
them leaving him, like thriftless dependents, 
for some more eligible situation, carrying away 
with them all the tattle they can pick up, and some 
left-off suit of finery. The same proneness to 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 233 



adulation which made them lick the dust before 
one idol, makes them bow as low to the rising 
Sun ; they are as lavish of detraction as they 
were prurient with praise ; and the protege and 

admirer of the editor of the figures in 

Blackwood's train. The man is a lacquey, 
and it is of little consequence whose livery he 
wears ! 

I would advise those who volunteer the office 
of puffing, to go the whole length of it. No 
half-measures will do. Lay it on thick and 
three-fold, or not at all. If you are once har- 
nessed into that vehicle, it will be in vain for 
you to think of stopping. You must drive to 
the devil at once. The mighty Tamburlane, to 
whose car you are yoked, cries out, 

"Holloa, you pamper'd jades of Asia, 
Can you not drive but twenty miles a day ? " 

He has you on the hip, for you have pledged 
your taste and judgment to his genius. Never 
fear but he will drive this wedge. If you are 
once screwed into such a machine, you must 
extricate yourself by main force. No hyper- 
boles are too much : any drawback, any admira- 
tion on this side idolatry, is high treason. It is 
an unpardonable offence to say that the last pro- 
duction of your patron is not so good as the 
one before it ; or that a performer shines more 
in one character than another. I remember once 



234 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 

hearing a player declare that he never looked 
into any newspapers or magazines, on account of 
the abuse that was always levelled at himself 
in them, though there were not less than three 
persons in company, who made it their business 
through these conduit pipes of fame to " cry 
him up to the top of the compass." This sort 
of expectation is a little exigeante / 

One fashionable mode of acquiring reputation 
is by patronising it. This may be from various 
motives, real good nature, good taste, vanity, 
or pride. I shall only speak of the spurious 
ones in this place. The quack and the would-be 
patron are well met. The house of the latter is 
a sort of curiosity-shop or menagerie, where all 
sort of intellectual pretenders and grotesques, 
musical children, arithmetical prodigies, occult 
philosophers, lecturers, accouchers, apes, che- 
mists, fiddlers, and buffoons, are to be seen for 
the asking, and are shown to the company for 
nothing. The folding doors are thrown open, 
and display a collection that the world cannot 
parallel again. There may be a few persons of 
common sense and established reputation, rari 
nantes in gurgite vasto, otherwise it is a mere 
scramble or lottery. The professed encourager 
of virtU and letters, being disappointed of the 
great names, sends out into the highways for the 
halt, the lame, and the blind, for all who pretend 
to distinction, defects, and obliquities, for all the 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 235 



disposable vanity or affectation floating on the 
town, in hopes that, among so many oddities, 
chance may bring some jewel or treasure to his 
door, which he may have the good fortune to 
appropriate in some way to his own use, or the 
credit of displaying to others. The art is to en- 
courage rising genius — to bring forward doubt- 
ful and unnoticed merit. You thus get a set of 
novices and raw pretenders about you, whose 
actual productions do not interfere with your 
self-love, and whose future efforts may reflect 
credit on your singular sagacity and faculty for 
finding out talent in the germ ; and in the next 
place, by having them completely in your power, 
you are at liberty to dismiss them whenever 
you will, and to supply the deficiency by a new 
set of wondering, unwashed faces, in a rapid 
succession; an u aiery of children," embryo 
actors, artists, poets, or philosophers. Like un- 
fledged birds, they are hatched, nursed, and fed 
by hand; this gives room for a vast deal of 
management, meddling, care, and condescend- 
ing solicitude, but the instant the callow brood 
are fledged, they are driven from the nest and 
forced to shift for themselves in the wide world. 
One sterling production decides the question 
between them and their patrons, and from that 
time they become the property of the public. 
Thus a succession of importunate, hungry, idle, 
over-weening candidates for fame, are encou- 



236 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



raged by these fickle keepers, only to be be- 
trayed, and left to starve or beg, or pine in 
obscurity, while the man of merit and respecta- 
bility is neglected, discountenanced, and stig- 
matised, because he will not lend himself as a 
tool to this system of splendid imposition, or 
pamper the luxury and weaknesses of the Vul- 
gar Great. When a young artist is too inde- 
pendent to subscribe to the dogmas of his supe- 
riors, or fulfils their predictions and prognostics 
of wonderful contingent talent too soon, so as 
to get out of leading strings, and lean on public 
opinion for partial support, exceptions are taken 
to his dress, dialect, or manners, and he is ex- 
pelled the circle with a character for ingratitude 
and treachery. None can procure toleration 
long but those who do not contradict the opin- 
ions, or excite the jealousy of their betters. 
One independent step is an appeal from them 
to the public, their natural and hated rivals, 
and annuls the contract between them, which 
implies ostentatious countenance on the one 
part, and servile submission on the other. 
But enough of this. 

The patronage of men of talent, even when 
it proceeds from vanity, is often carried on with 
a spirit of generosity and magnificence, as long 
as these are in difficulties and a state of depend- 
ence ; but as the principle of action in this case 
is a love of power, the complacency in the ob- 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 237 



ject of friendly regard ceases with the oppor- 
tunity or necessity for the same manifest display 
of power; and when the unfortunate 'protege is 
just coming to land, and expects a last helping 
hand, he is, to his surprise, pushed back, in 
order that he may be saved from drowning once 
more. You are not hailed ashore, as you had 
supposed, by these kind friends, as a mutual 
triumph after all your struggles and their ex- 
ertions in your behalf. It is a piece of pre- 
sumption in you to be seen walking on terra 
Jirma : you are required, at the risk of their 
friendship, to be always swimming in troubled 
waters, that they may have the benefit of throw- 
ing out ropes, and sending out life-boats to you, 
without ever bringing you ashore. Your suc- 
cesses, your reputation, which you think would 
please them, as justifying their good opinion, 
are coldly received, and looked at askance, be- 
. cause they remove your dependence on them: 
if you are under a cloud, they do all they can to 
keep you there by their good will : they are so 
sensible of your gratitude that they wish your 
obligations never to cease, and take care you 
shall owe no one else a good turn ; and pro- 
vided you are compelled or contented to remain 
always in poverty, obscurity, and disgrace, they 
will continue your very good friends and hum- 
ble servants to command, to the end of the 
chapter. The tenure of these indentures is 



238 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



hard. Such persons will wilfully forfeit the 
gratitude created by years of friendship, by re- 
fusing to perform the last act of kindness that 
is likely ever to be demanded of them : will 
lend you money, if you have no chance of re- 
paying them : will give you their good word, if 
nobody will believe it; and the only thing they 
do not forgive is an attempt or probability on 
your part, of being able to repay your obliga- 
tions. There is something disinterested in all 
this : at least, it does not show a cowardly or 
mercenary disposition, but it savours too much 
of arrogance and arbitrary pretension. It throws 
a damning light on this question to consider who 
are mostly the subjects of the patronage of the 
great, and in the habit of receiving cards of invita- 
tion to splendid dinners. I confess, for one, I am 
not on the list ; at which I do not grieve much, 
nor wonder at all. Authors, in general, are not 
in much request. Dr J ohnson was asked why 
he was not more frequently invited out ; and he 
said, "Because great lords and ladies do not like 
to have their mouths stopped." Garrick was not 
in this predicament: he could amuse the com- 
pany in the drawing-room by imitating the great 
moralist and lexicographer, and make the negro 
boy, in the court-yard, die with laughter to see 
him take off the swelling airs and strut of the 
turkey-cock. This was clever and amusing, 
but it did not involve an opinion, it did not 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 239 

lead to a difference of sentiment, in which the 
owner of the house might be found in the wrong. 
Players, singers, dancers, are hand and glove 
with the great. They embellish, and have an 
eclat in their names, but do not come into col- 
lision. Eminent portrait-painters, again, are 
tolerated, because they come into personal con- 
tact with the great : and sculptors hold equality 
with lords when they have a certain quantity of 
solid marble in their workshops to answer for 
the solidity of their pretensions. People of 
fashion and property must have something to 
show for their patronage, something visible or 
tangible, A sentiment is a visionary thing ; an 
argument may lead to dangerous consequences, 
and those who are likely to broach either one or 
the other, are not, therefore, fit for good com- 
pany in general. Poets, and men of genius, 
who find their way there, soon find their way 
out. They are not of that ilk, with some ex- 
ceptions. Painters who come in contact with 
majesty get on by servility and buffoonery, by 
letting themselves down in some way. Sir 
Joshua was never a favourite at court. He 
kept too much at a distance. Beechey gained 
a vast deal of favour by familiarity, and lost 
it by taking too great freedoms.* West ingra- 



* Sharp became a great favourite with the king on the 
following occasion. It was the custom, when the king 



240 ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 



tiated himself in the same quarter by means of 
practices as little creditable to himself as his 
august employer, namely, by playing the hypo- 
crite, and professing sentiments the reverse of 
those he naturally felt. Kings (I know not how 
justly) have been said to be lovers of low com- 
pany and low conversation. They are also said 
to be fond of dirty practical jokes. If the fact 
is so, the reason is as follows. From the eleva- 
tion of their rank, aided by pride and flattery, 
they look down on the rest of mankind, and 
would not be thought to have all their advan- 
tages for nothing. They wish to maintain the 
same precedence in private life that belongs to 
them as a matter of outward ceremony. This 
pretension they cannot keep up by fair means ; 
for in wit or argument they are not superior to 
the common run of men. They, therefore, 
answer a repartee by a practical joke, which 
turns the laugh against others, and cannot be 

went through the lobbies of the palace, for those who 
preceded him to cry out, " Sharp, sharp ; look sharp/' in 
order to clear the way. Mr Sharp, who was waiting in 
a room jnst by (preparing some colours), hearing his 
name repeated so urgently, ran out in great haste, and 
came up with all his force against the king, who was 
passing the door at the time. The young artist was 
knocked down in the encounter, and the attendants were 
in the greatest consternation ; but the king laughed 
heartily at the adventure, and took great notice of the 
unfortunate subject of it from that time forward. 



ON PATRONAGE AND PUFFING. 241 

retaliated with safety. That is, they avail 
themselves of the privilege of their situation to 
take liberties, and degrade those about them, as 
they can only keep up the idea of their own 
dignity by proportionably lowering their com- 
pany. 



R 



ESSAY XII. 

ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 



It is astonishing, with all our opportunities 
and practice, how little we know of this subject. 
For myself, I feel that the more I learn, the less 
I understand it. 

I remember, several years ago, a conversation 
in the diligence coming from Paris, in which, 
on its being mentioned that a man had married 
his wife after thirteen years' courtship, a fellow- 
countryman of mine observed, that "then, at 
least, he would be acquainted with her charac- 
ter ; " when a Monsieur P , inventor and 

proprietor of the 6 Invisible Girl/ made answer, 
" No, not at all ; for that the very next day she 
might turn out the very reverse of the character 
that she had appeared in during all the pre- 
ceding time."* I could not help admiring the 



* " It is not a year or two shows us a man." — JEmilia. 
in Othello. 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 243 

superior sagacity of the French juggler, and it 
struck me then that we could never be sure 
when we had got at the bottom of this riddle. 

There are various ways of getting at a know- 
ledge of character — by looks, words, actions. 
The first of these, which seems the most super- 
ficial, is perhaps the safest, and least liable to 
deceive : nay, it is that which mankind, in spite 
of their pretending to the contrary, most gene- 
rally go by. Professions pass for nothing, and 
actions may be counterfeited : but a man cannot 
help his looks. " Speech/' said a celebrated wit, 
H was given to man to conceal his thoughts. " 
Yet I do not know that the greatest hypocrites 
are the least silent. The mouth of Cromwell is 
pursed up in the portraits of him, as if he was 
afraid to trust himself with words. Lord Ches- 
terfield advises us, if we wish to know the real 
sentiments of the person we are conversing with, 
to look in his face, for he can more easily com- 
mand his words than his features. A man's 
whole life may be a lie to himself and others ; 
and yet a picture painted of him by a great 
artist would probably stamp his true character 
on the canvas, and betray the secret to posterity. 
Men's opinions were divided, in their life-times, 
about such prominent personages as Charles V 
and Ignatius Loyola; partly, no doubt, from 
passion and interest, but partly from contradic- 
tory evidence in their ostensible conduct: the 
spectator, who has ever seen their pictures by 



244 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

Titian, judges of them at once, and truly. I 
had rather leave a good portrait of myself be- 
hind me than have a fine epitaph. The face, 
for the most part, tells what we have thought 
and felt — the rest is nothing. I have a higher 
idea of Donne from a rude, half-effaced outline 
of him prefixed to his poems than from any- 
thing he ever wrote. Caesar's 6 Commentaries ' 
would not have redeemed him in my opinion, 
if the bust of him had resembled the Duke of 
Wellington. My old friend Fawcett used to say, 
that if Sir Isaac Newton himself had lisped, he 
could not have thought anything of him. So 
I cannot persuade myself that any one is a great 
man, who looks like a fool. In this I may be 
wrong. 

First impressions are often the truest, as we 
find (not unfrequently) to our cost, when we 
have been wheedled out of them by plausible 
professions or actions. A man's look is the 
work of years, it is stamped on his countenance 
by the events of his whole life, nay, more, 
by the hand of nature, and it is not to be got rid 
of easily. There is, as it has been remarked 
repeatedly, something in a person's appearance 
at first sight which we do not like, and that 
gives us an odd twinge, but which is overlooked 
in a multiplicity of other circumstances, till the 
mask is taken off, and we see this lurking cha- 
racter verified in the plainest manner in the 
sequel. We are struck at first, and by chance, 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 245 

with what is peculiar and characteristic ; also 
with permanent traits and general effect : this 
afterwards goes off in a set of unmeaning, com- 
mon-place details. This sort of prima-facie evi- 
dence then shows what a man is, better than 
what he says or does ; for it shows us the habit 
of his mind, which is the same under all circum- 
stances and disguises. You will say, on the 
other hand, that there is no judging by appear- 
ances as a general rule. No one, for instance, 
would take such a person for a very clever man 
without knowing who he was. Then, ten to 
one, he is not : he may have got the reputation, 

but it is a mistake. You say, there is Mr , 

undoubtedly a person of great genius ; yet, ex- 
cept when excited by something extraordinary, 
he seems half dead. He has wit at will, yet 
wants life and spirit. He is capable of the most 
generous acts, yet meanness seems to cling to 
every motion. He looks like a poor creature — 
and in truth he is one ! The first impression 
he gives you of him answers nearly to the feel- 
ing he has of his personal identity; and this 
image of himself, rising from his thoughts, and 
shrouding his faculties, is that which sits with 
him in the house, walks out with him into the 
street, and haunts his bed-side. The best part 
of his existence is dull, cloudy, leaden : the 
flashes of light that proceed from it, or streak 
it here and there, may dazzle others, but do not 



246 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

deceive himself. Modesty is the lowest of the 
virtues, and is a real confession of the deficiency 
it indicates. He who undervalues himself is 
justly undervalued by others. Whatever good 
properties he may possess are, in fact, neutra- 
lised by a " cold rheum " running through his 
veins, and taking away the zest of his preten- 
sions, the pith and marrow of his performances. 
What is it to me that I can write these Table- 
Talks ? It is true I can, by a reluctant effort, 
rake up a parcel of half-forgotten observations, 
but they do not float on the surface of my mind, 
nor stir it with any sense of pleasure, nor even 
of pride. Others have more property in them 
than I have : they may reap the benefit, I have 
only had the pain. Otherwise, they are to me 
as if they had never existed : nor should I know 
that I had ever thought at all, but that I am 
reminded of it by the strangeness of my ap- 
pearance, and my unfitness for everything else. 
Look in Coleridge's face while he is talking. 
His words are such as might create a soul 
under the ribs of death." His face is a blank. 
Which are we to consider as the true index of 
his mind? Pain, languor, shadowy remem- 
brances, are the uneasy inmates there : his lips 
move mechanically ! 

There are people that we do not like, though 
we may have known them long, and have no 
fault to find with them, " their appearance, as 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 247 

we say, is so much against them." That is not 
all, if we could find it out. There is generally 
a reason for this prejudice ; for nature is true to 
itself. They may be very good sort of people, 
too, in their way, but still something is the mat 
ter. There is a coldness, a selfishness, a levity, 
an insincerity, which we cannot fix upon any 
particular phrase or action, but we see it in their 
whole persons and deportment. One reason 
that we do not see it in any other way may be, 
that they are all the time trying to conceal this 
defect by every means in their power. There 
is, luckily, a sort of second sight in morals : we 
discern the lurking indications of temper and 
habit a long while before their palpable effects 
appear. I once used to meet with a person at 
an ordinary, a very civil, good-looking man in 
other respects, but with an odd look about his 
eyes, which I could not explain, as if he saw 
you under their fringed lids, and you could not 
see him again : this man was a common sharper. 
The greatest hypocrite I ever knew was a little, 
demure, pretty, modest-looking girl, with eyes 
timidly cast upon the ground, and an air soft as 
enchantment ; the only circumstance that could 
lead to a suspicion of her true character was a 
cold, sullen, watery, glazed look about the eyes, 
which she bent on vacancy, as if determined to 
avoid all explanation with yours. I might have 
spied in their glittering, motionless surface, the 



248 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

rocks and quicksands that awaited me below ! 
We do not feel quite at ease in the company or 
friendship of those who have any natural obli- 
quity or imperfection of person. The reason is, 
they are not on the best terms with themselves, 
and are sometimes apt to play off on others the 
tricks that nature has played them. This, how- 
ever, is a remark that, perhaps, ought not to 
have been made. I know a person to whom it 
has been objected as a disqualification for 
friendship, that he never shakes you cordially 
by the hand. I own this is a damper to san- 
guine and florid temperaments, who abound in 
these practical demonstrations and " compli- 
ments extern." The same person, who testifies 
the least pleasure at meeting you, is the last to 
quit his seat in your company, grapples with a 
subject in conversation right earnestly, and is, 
I take it, backward to give up a cause of a friend. 
Cold and distant in appearance, he piques him- 
self on being the king of good haters, and a no 
less zealous partisan. The most phlegmatic 
constitutions often contain the most inflam- 
mable spirits — as fire is struck from the hardest 
flints. 

And this is another reason that makes it dif- 
ficult to judge of character. Extremes meet ; 
and qualities display themselves by the most 
contradictory appearances. Any inclination, 
in consequence of being generally suppressed, 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 249 



vents itself the more violently when an oppor- 
tunity presents itself : the greatest grossness 
sometimes accompanies the greatest refinement, 
as a natural relief, one to the other ; and we 
find the most reserved and indifferent tempers 
at the beginning of an entertainment, or an ac- 
quaintance, turn out the most communicative 
and cordial at the end of it. Some spirits ex- 
haust themselves at first : others gain strength 
by progression. Some minds have a greater fa- 
cility of throwing off impressions, are, as it were, 
more transparent or porous than others. Thus 
the French present a marked contrast to the Eng- 
lish in this respect. A Frenchman addresses 
you at once with a sort of lively indifference: 
an Englishman is more on his guard, feels his 
way, and is either exceedingly reserved, or lets 
you into his whole confidence, which he cannot 
so well impart to an entire stranger. Again, a 
Frenchman is naturally humane : an English- 
man is, I should say, only friendly by habit. 
His virtue and his vices cost him more than 
they do his more gay and volatile neighbours. 
An Englishman is said to speak his mind more 
plainly than others : — yes, if it will give you pain 
to hear it. He does not care whom he offends 
by his discourse : a foreigner generally strives 
to oblige in what he says. The French are 
accused of promising more than they perform. 
That may be, and yet they may perform as 



250 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

many good-natured acts as the English, if the 
latter are as averse to perform as they are to 
promise. Even the professions of the French 
may be sincere at the time, or arise out of the 
impulse of the moment; though their desire to 
serve you may be neither very violent nor very 
lasting. I cannot think, notwithstanding, that 
the French are not a serious people ; nay, that 
they are not a more reflecting people than the 
common run of the English. Let those who 
think them merely light and mercurial, explain 
that enigma, their everlasting prosing tragedy. 
The English are considered as comparatively a 
slow, plodding people. If the French are quicker, 
they are also more plodding. See, for example, 
how highly finished and elaborate their works 
of art are ! How systematic and correct they 
aim at being in all their productions of a graver 
cast ! " If the French have a fault/' as Yorick 
said, " it is that they are too grave." "With wit, 
sense, cheerfulness, patience, good- nature and 
refinement of manners, all they want is imagina- 
tion and sturdiness of moral principle ! Such are 
some of the contradictions in the character of 
the two nations, and so little does the character 
of either appear to have been understood! 
Nothing can be more ridiculous, indeed, than 
the way in which we exaggerate each other's 
vices and extenuate our own. The whole is an 
affair of prejudice on one side of the question, 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 251 

and of partiality on the other. Travellers who 
set out to carry back a true report of the case 
appear to lose not only the use of their under- 
standings, but of their senses, the instant they 
set foot in a foreign land. The commonest facts 
and appearances are distorted, and discoloured. 
They go abroad with certain preconceived no- 
tions on the subject, and they make everything 
answer, in reason's spite, to their favourite 
theory. In addition to the difficulty of explain- 
ing customs and manners foreign to our own, 
there are all the obstacles of wilful prepossession 
thrown in the way. It is not, therefore, much 
to be wondered at that nations have arrived at 
so little knowledge of one another's characters ; 
and that, where the object has been to widen 
the breach between them, any slight differences 
that occur are easily blown into a blaze of 
fury by repeated misrepresentations, and all 
the exaggerations that malice or folly can 
invent ! 

This ignorance of character is not confined to 
foreign nations : we are ignorant of that of our 
own countrymen in a class a little below or 
above ourselves. We shall hardly pretend to 
pronounce magisterially on the good or bad 
qualities of strangers ; and, at the same time, 
we are ignorant of those of our friends, of our 
kindred, and of our own. We are in all these 



252 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

cases either too near or too far off the object to 
judge of it properly. 

Persons, for instance, in a higher or middle 
rank of life know little or nothing of the cha- 
racters of those below them, as servants, country- 
people, &c. I would lay it down in the first 
place as a general rule on this subject, that all 
uneducated people are hypocrites. Their sole 
business is to deceive. They conceive them- 
selves in a state of hostility with others, and 
stratagems are fair in war. The inmates of the 
kitchen and the parlour are always (as far as 
respects their feelings and intentions towards 
each other) in Hobbes's u state of nature." 
Servants and others in that line of life have no- 
thing to exercise their spare talents for invention 
upon but those about them. Their superfluous 
electrical particles of wit and fancy are not car- 
ried off by those established and fashionable 
conductors, novels and romances. Their fa- 
culties are not buried in books, but all alive and 
stirring, erect and bristling like a cat's back. 
Their coarse conversation sparkles with " wild 
wit, invention ever new." Their betters try all 
they can to set themselves up above them, and 
they try all they can to pull them down to their 
own level. They do this by getting up a little 
comic interlude, a daily, domestic, homely drama 
out of the odds and ends of the family failings, 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 253 

of which there is in general a pretty plentiful 
supply, or make up the deficiency of materials 
out of their own heads. They turn the qualities 
of their masters and mistresses inside out, and 
any real kindness or condescension only sets 
them the more against you. They are not to 
be taken in in that way — they will not be balked 
in the spite they have to you. They only set to 
work with redoubled alacrity, to lessen the fa- 
vour or to blacken your character. They feel 
themselves like a degraded caste, and cannot un- 
derstand how the obligations can be all on one 
side, and the advantages all on the other. You 
cannot come to equal terms with them — they 
reject all such overtures as insidious and hollow 
— nor can you ever calculate upon their gra- 
titude or good- will, any more than if they were 
so many strolling Gipsies or wild Indians. They 
have no fellow-feeling, they keep no faith with 
the more privileged classes. They are in your 
power, and they endeavour to be even with you 
by trick and cunning, by lying and chicanery. 
In this they have nothing to restrain them. 
Their whole life is a succession of shifts, ex- 
cuses, and expedients. The love of truth is a 
principle with those only who have made it their 
study, who have applied themselves to the pur- 
suit of some art or science, where the intellect 
is severely tasked, and learns by habit to take 
a pride in, and to set a just value on, the cor- 



254 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

rectness of its conclusions. To have a disin- 
terested regard to truth, the mind must have 
contemplated it in abstract and remote ques- 
tions ; whereas the ignorant and vulgar are only 
conversant with those things in which their own 
interest is concerned. All their notions are 
local, personal, and consequently gross and 
selfish. They say whatever comes uppermost 
— turn whatever happens to their own account 
— and invent any story, or give any answer, that 
suits their purposes. Instead of being bigoted 
to general principles, they trump up any lie for 
the occasion, and the more of a thumper it is 
the better they like it ; the more unlooked-for 
it is, why, so much the more of a God-send ! 
They have no conscience about the matter ; 
and if you find them out in any of their ma- 
noeuvres, are not ashamed of themselves, but 
angry with you. If you remonstrate with them, 
they laugh in your face. The only hold you 
have of them is their interest — you can but dis- 
miss them from your employment ; and service 
is no inheritance. If they affect anything like 
decent remorse, and hope you will pass it over, 
all the while they are probably trying to recover 
the wind of you. Persons of liberal knowledge 
or sentiments have no kind of chance in this 
sort of mixed intercourse with these barbarians 
in civilised life. You cannot tell, by any signs 
or principles; what is passing in their minds. 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 255 

There is no common point of view between you. 
You have not the same topics to refer to, the 
same language to express yourself. Your in- 
terests, your feelings, are quite distinct. You 
take certain things for granted as rules of ac- 
tion : they take nothing for granted but their 
own ends, pick up all their knowledge out of 
their own occasions, are on the watch only for 
what they can catch — are 

" Subtle as the fox for prey : 
Like warlike as the wolf, for what they eat." 

They have indeed a regard to their character, 
as this last may affect their livelihood or ad- 
vancement, none as it is connected with a sense 
of propriety ; and this sets their mother-wit and 
native talents at work upon a double file of ex- 
pedients, to bilk their consciences, and salve 
their reputation. In short, you never know 
where to have them, any more than if they were 
of a different species of animals ; and in trusting 
to them, you are sure to be betrayed and over- 
reached. You have other things to mind, they 
are thinking only of you, and how to turn you 
to advantage. Give and take is no maxim here. 
You can build nothing on your own modera- 
tion or on their false delicacy. After a familiar 
conversation with a waiter at a tavern, you over- 
hear him calling you by some provoking nick- 
name. If you make a present to the daughter 



256 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 



of the house where you lodge, the mother is 
sure to recollect some addition to her bill. It 
is a running fight. In fact, there is a principle 
in human nature not willingly to endure the 
idea of a superior, a sour jacobinical disposition 
to wipe out the score of obligation, or efface the 
tinsel of external advantages — and where others 
have the opportunity of coming in contact 
with us, they generally find the means to estab- 
lish a sufficiently marked degree of degrading 
equality. No man is a hero to his valet-de- 
chambre, is an old maxim. A new illustration 
of this principle occurred the other day. While 
Mrs Siddons was giving her readings of Shake- 
spear to a brilliant and admiring drawing-room, 
one of the servants in the hall below was saying, 
" What, I find the old lady is making as much 
noise as ever ! " So little is there in common 
between the different classes of society, and so 
impossible is it ever to unite the diversities of 
custom and knowledge which separate them. 

Women, according to Mrs Peachum, are 
" bitter bad judges " of the characters of men ; 
and men are not much better of theirs, if we 
can form any guess from their choice in mar- 
riage. Love is proverbially blind. The whole 
is an affair of whim and fancy. Certain it is, 
that the greatest favourites with the other sex 
are not those who are most liked or respected 
among their own. I never knew but one clever 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 257 

man who was what is called a lady's man ; and 
he (unfortunately for the argument) happened 
to be a considerable coxcomb. It was by this 
irresistible quality, and not by the force of his 
genius that he vanquished. Women seem to 
doubt their own judgments in love, and to take 
the opinion which a man entertains of his own 
powers and accomplishments for granted. The 
wives of poets are (for the most part) mere 
pieces of furniture in the room. If you speak 
to them of their husbands' talents or reputation 
in the world, it is as if you made mention of 
some office that they held. It can hardly be 
otherwise, when the instant any subject is 
started or conversation arises, in which men are 
interested, or try one another's strength, the 
women leave the room, or attend to some- 
thing else. The qualities, then, in which men 
are ambitious to excel, and which ensure the 
applause of the world, eloquence, genius, learn- 
ing, integrity, are not those which gain the fa- 
vour of the fair. I must not deny, however, 
that wit and courage have this effect. Neither 
is youth or beauty the sole passport to their af- 
fections. 

" The way of woman's will is hard to find, 
Harder to hit." 

Yet there is some clue to this mystery, some 
determining cause ; for we find that the same 

s 



258 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 



men are universal favourites with women, as 
others are uniformly disliked by them. Is not 
the load-stone that attracts so powerfully, and in 
all circumstances, a strong and undisguised bias 
towards them, a marked attention, a conscious 
preference of them to every other passing ob- 
ject or topic ? I am not sure but I incline to 
think so. The successful lover is the cavalier 
servente of all nations. The man of gallantry 
behaves as if he had made an assignation with 
every woman he addresses. An argument 
immediately draws off my attention from the 
prettiest woman in the room. I accordingly 
succeed better in argument, than in love ! I 
do not think that what is called u love at first 
sight" is so great an absurdity as it is sometimes 
imagined to be. We generally make up our 
minds beforehand to the sort of person we 
should like, grave or gay, black, brown, or fair ; 
with golden tresses or with raven locks ; — and 
when we meet with a complete example of the 
qualities we admire, the bargain is soon struck. 
We have never seen anything to come up to 
our newly discovered goddess before, but she is 
what we have been all our lives looking for. 
The idol we fall down and worship is an image 
familiar to our minds. It has been present to 
our waking thoughts, it has haunted us in our 
dreams, like some fairy vision. Oh! thou, 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 259 

who, the first time I ever beheld thee, didst draw 
my soul into the circle of thy heavenly looks, 
and wave enchantment round me, do not think 
thy conquest less complete because it was in- 
stantaneous ; for in that gentle form (as if an- 
other Imogene had entered) I saw all that I had 
ever loved of female grace, modesty, and sweet- 
ness ! 

I shall not say much of friendship as giving 
an insight into character, because it is often 
founded on mutual infirmities and prejudices. 
Friendships are frequently taken up on some 
sudden sympathy, and we see only as much as 
we please of one another's characters after- 
wards. Intimate friends are not fair witnesses 
to character, any more than professed enemies. 
They cool, indeed, in time, part, and retain 
only a rankling grudge at past errors and over- 
sights. Their testimony in the latter case is not 
quite free from suspicion. 

One would think that near relations who live 
constantly together, and always have done so, 
must be pretty well acquainted with one an- 
other's characters. They are nearly in the dark 
about it. Familiarity confounds all traits of 
distinction : interest and prejudice take away 
the power of judging. We have no opinion on 
the subject, any more than of one another's 
faces. The penates, the household gods, are 
veiled. We do not see the features of those we 



260 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 



love, nor do we clearly distinguish their virtues 
or their vices. We take them as they are found 
in the lump : — by weight, and not by measure. 
We know all about the individuals, their senti- 
ments, history, manners, words, actions, every- 
thing; but we know all these too much as facts, 
as inveterate, habitual impressions, as clothed 
with too many associations, as sanctified with 
too many affections, as woven too much into 
the web of our hearts, to be able to pick out 
the different threads, to cast up the items of 
the debtor and creditor account, or to refer 
them to any general standard of right and 
wrong. Our impressions with respect to them 
are too strong, too real, too much sui generis, 
to be capable of a comparison with anything 
but themselves. We hardly inquire whether 
those for whom we are thus interested, and to 
whom we are thus knit, are better or worse than 
others — the question is a kind of profanation — 
all we know is, they are more to us than any one 
else can be. Our sentiments of this kind are 
rooted and grow in us, and we cannot eradicate 
them by voluntary means. Besides, our judg- 
ments are bespoke, our interests take part with 
our blood. If any doubt arises, if the veil of 
our implicit confidence is drawn aside by any ac- 
cident for a moment, the shock is too great, like 
that of a dislocated limb, and we recoil on our 
habitual impressions again. Let not that veil 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 261 

ever be rent entirely asunder, so that those images 
may be left bare of reverential awe, and lose their 
religion : for nothing can ever support the deso- 
lation of the heart afterwards. 

The greatest misfortune that can happen among 
relations is a different way of bringing up, so as 
to set one another's opinions and characters in 
an entirely new point of view. This often lets in 
an unwelcome daylight on the subject, and breeds 
schisms, coldness, and incurable heart-burnings in 
families. " I have sometimes thought whether the 
progress of society and march of knowledge does 
not do more harm in this respect= by loosening the 
ties of domestic attachment, and preventing those 
who are most interested in, and anxious to think 
well of one another, from feeling a cordial sym- 
pathy and approbation of each other's sentiments, 
manners, views, &c, than it does good by any 
real advantage to the community at large. The 
son, for instance, is brought up to the church, 
and nothing can exceed the pride and pleasure 
the father takes in him, while all goes on well in 
this favourite direction." His notions change, and 
he imbibes a taste for the Fine Arts. From this 
moment there is an end of anything like the same 
unreserved communication between them. The 
young man may talk with enthusiasm of his 
" Rembrandts, Correggios, and stuff :" it is all 
Chinese to the elder; and whatever satisfaction he 
may feel in hearing of his son's progress, or good 



262 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

wishes for his success, he is never reconciled to 
the new pursuit, he still hankers after the first 
object that he had set his mind upon. Again, 
the grandfather is a Calvinist, who never gets the 
better of his disappointment at his son's going 
over to the Unitarian side of the question. The 
matter rests here, till the grandson, some years 
after, in the fashion of the day and " infinite agi- 
tation of men's wit," comes to doubt certain points 
in the creed in which he has been brought up, 
and the affair is all abroad again. Here are three 
generations made uncomfortable and in a manner 
set at variance, by a veering point of theology, 
and the officious meddling of biblical critics ! 
Nothing, on the other hand, can be more wretched 
or common than that upstart pride and insolent 
good fortune which is ashamed of its origin ; 
nor are there many things more awkward than 
the situation of rich and poor relations. Happy, 
much happier, are those tribes and people who 
are confined to the same caste and way of life 
from sire to son, where prejudices are transmit- 
ted like instincts, and where the same unvarying 
standard of opinion and refinement blends count- 
less generations in its improgressive, everlasting 
mould ! 

Not only is there a wilful and habitual blind- 
ness in near kindred to each other's defects, but 
an incapacity to judge from the quantity of 
materials, from the contradictoriness of the evi- 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 263 

dence. The chain of particulars is too long and 
massy for us to lift it or put it into the most ap- 
proved ethical scales. The concrete result does 
not answer to any abstract theory, to any logical 
definition. There is black, and white, and gray, 
square and round — there are too many anoma- 
lies, too many redeeming points, in poor human 
nature, such as it actually is, for us to arrive at 
a smart, summary decision on it. We know too 
much to come to any hasty or partial conclusion . 
We do not pronounce upon the present act, be- 
cause a hundred others rise up to contradict it. 
We suspend our judgments altogether, because 
in effect one thing unconsciously balances an- 
other ; and perhaps this obstinate, pertinacious 
indecision would be the truest philosophy in 
other cases, where we dispose of the question of 
character easily, because we have only the small- 
est part of the evidence to decide upon. Real 
character is not one thing, but a thousand things ; 
actual qualities do not conform to any factitious 
standard in the mind, but rest upon their own 
truth and nature. The dull stupor under which 
we labour in respect of those whom we have the 
greatest opportunities of inspecting nearly, we 
should do well to imitate, before we give ex- 
treme and uncharitable verdicts against those 
whom we only see in passing, or at a distance. If 
we knew them better, we should be disposed to 
say less about them. 



264 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 



In the truth of things, there are none utterly 
worthless, none without some drawback on their 
pretensions, or some alloy of imperfection. It 
has been observed that a familiarity with the 
worst characters lessens our abhorrence of them; 
and a wonder is often expressed that the greatest 
criminals look like other men. The reason is 
that they are like other men in many respects. If 
a particular individual was merely the wretch we 
read of, or conceive in the abstract, that is, if he 
was the mere personified idea of the criminal 
brought to the bar, he would not disappoint the 
spectator, but would look like what he would be 
— a monster ! But he has other qualities, ideas, 
feelings, nay, probably virtues, mixed up with 
the most profligate habits or desperate acts. This 
need not lessen our abhorrence of the crime, 
though it does of the criminal ; for it has the lat- 
ter effect only by showing him to us in different 
points of view, in which he appears a common 
mortal, and not the caricature of vice we took 
him for, or spotted all over with infamy. I do 
not at the same time think this a lax or danger- 
ous, though it is a charitable, view of the subject. 
In my opinion, no man ever answered in his own 
mind (except in the agonies of conscience or of 
repentance, in which latter case he throws the 
imputation from himself in another way) to the 
abstract idea of a murderer. He may have 
killed a man in self-defence, or "in the trade 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 265 

of war," or to save himself from starving, or in 
revenge for an injury, but always "so as with 
a difference/ ' or from mixed and questionable 
motives. The individual, in reckoning with him- 
self, always takes into the account the considera- 
tions of time, place, and circumstance, and never 
makes out a case of unmitigated, unprovoked 
villany, of " pure defecated evil" against himself. 
There are degrees in real crimes : we reason 
and moralise only by names and in classes. I 
should be loth, indeed, to say, that " whatever is, 
is right but almost every actual choiceinclines 
to it, with some sort of imperfect, unconscious 
bias. This is the reason, besides the ends of 
secresy, of the invention of slang terms for dif- 
ferent acts of profligacy committed by thieves, 
pickpockets, &c. The common names suggest 
associations of disgust in the minds of others, 
which those who live by them do not willingly 
recognise, and which they wish to sink in a tech- 
nical phraseology. So there is a story of a fel- 
low, who, as he was writing down his confession 
of a murder, stopped to ask how the word mur- 
der was spelt; this, if true, was partly because 
his imagination was staggered by the recollec- 
tion of the thing, and partly because he shrunk 
from the verbal admission of it. "Amen stuck 
in his throat !" The defence made by Eugene 
Aram of himself against a charge of murder, 
some years before, shows that he in imagination 



266 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 



completely flung from himself the nominal crime 
imputed to him : he might, indeed, have stag- 
gered an old man with a blow, and buried his 
body in a cave, and lived ever since upon the 
money he found upon him, but there was il no 
malice in the case, none at all," as Peachum 
says. The very coolness, subtlety, and circum- 
spection of his defence (as masterly a legal do- 
cument as there is upon record) prove that he 
was guilty of the act, as much as they prove 
that he was unconscious of the crime.* In the 
same spirit, and I conceive with great metaphy- 
sical truth, Mr Coleridge, in his tragedy of Re- 
morse, makes Ordonio (his chief character) wave 
the acknowledgment of his meditated guilt to 
his own mind, by putting into his mouth that 
striking soliloquy : 
Say, I had lay'd a body in the sun ! 
Well ! in a month there swarm forth from the corse 
A thousand, nay, ten thousand sentient beings 
In place of that one man. Say, I had killed him ! 
Yet who shall tell me that each one and all 
Of these ten thousand lives is not as happy 
As that one life, which being push'd aside, 
Made room for these unnumber'd ? — Act ii. sc. ii. 

* The bones of the murdered man were dug up in an 
old hermitage. On this, as one instance of the acuteness 
which he displayed all through the occasion, Aram re- 
marks, "Where would you expect to find the bones 
of a man sooner than in a hermit's cell, except you were 
to look for them in a cemetery ? " See Newgate 
Calendar for the year 1758 or 9. 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 267 

I am not sure, indeed, that I have not got 
this whole train of speculation from him; but I 
should not think the worse of it on that account. 
That gentleman, I recollect, once asked me 
whether I thought that the different members 
of a family really liked one another so well, or 
had so much attachment as was generally sup- 
posed ; and I said that I conceived the regard 
they had towards each other was expressed by 
the word interest, rather than by any other; 
which he said was the true answer, I do not 
know that I could mend it now. Natural af- 
fection is not pleasure in one another's com- 
pany, nor admiration of one another's qualities ; 
but it is an intimate and deep knowledge of the 
things that affect those to whom we are bound 
by the nearest ties with pleasure or pain ; it is 
an anxious, uneasy, fellow-feeling with them, a 
jealous watchfulness over their good name, a 
tender and unconquerable yearning for their 
good. The love, in short, we bear- them is the 
nearest to that we bear ourselves. Home, ac- 
cording to the old saying, is home, be it never so 
homely. We love ourselves, not according to 
our deserts, but our cravings after good : so we 
love our immediate relations in the next degree 
(if not, even sometimes a higher one) because 
we know best what they have suffered, and what 
sits nearest to their hearts. We are implicated, 



268 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER, 

in fact, in their welfare, by habit and sympathy, 
as we are in our own. 

If our devotion to our own interests is much 
the same as to theirs, we are ignorant of our 
own characters for the same reason. We are 
parties too much concerned to return a fair ver- 
dict, and are too much in the secret of our own 
motives or situation not to be able to give a fa- 
vourable turn to our actions. We exercise a 
liberal criticism upon ourselves, and put off the 
final decision to a late day. The field is large 
and open. Hamlet exclaims, with a noble mag- 
nanimity, "I count myself indifferent honest, 
and yet I could accuse me of such things !" If 
you could prove to a man that he is a knave, it 
would not make much difference in his opinion 5 
his self-love is stronger than his love of virtue. 
Hypocrisy is generally used as a mask to deceive 
the world, not to impose on ourselves ; for once 
detect the delinquent in his knavery, and he 
laughs in your face, or glories in his iniquity. 
This at least happens except where there is a 
contradiction in the character, and our vices are 
involuntary, and at variance with our convictions. 
One great difficulty is to distinguish ostensible 
motives, or such as we acknowledge to ourselves, 
from tacit or secret springs of action. A man 
changes his opinion readily, he thinks it candour: 
it is levity of mind. For the most part, we 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 269 

are callous by custom to our defects and excel- 
lencies, unless where vanity steps in to exag- 
gerate or extenuate them. I cannot conceive 
how it is that people are in love with their own 
persons, or astonished at their own performances, 
which are but a nine days' wonder to every one 
else. In general it may be laid down that we 
are liable to this twofold mistake in judging of 
our own talents : we, in the first place, nurse 
the rickety bantling, we think much of that 
which has cost us much pains and labour, and 
comes against the grain ; and we also set little 
store by what we do with most ease to ourselves, 
and therefore best. The works of the greatest 
genius are produced almost unconsciously, with 
an ignorance on the part of the persons them- 
selves that they have done anything extraor- 
dinary. Nature has done it for them. How 
little Shakespear seems to have thought of him- 
self, or of his fame ! Yet, if " to know another 
well, were to know one's self," he must have 
been acquainted with his own pretensions and 
character, "who knew all qualities with a learned 
spirit." His eye seems never to have been bent 
upon himself, but outwards upon nature. A 
man who thinks highly of himself, may almost 
set it down that it is without reason. Milton, 
notwithstanding, appears to have had a high 
opinion of himself, and to have made it good. 
He was conscious of his powers, and great by 



270 ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 

design. Perhaps his tenaciousness, on the score 
of his own merit, might arise from an early habit 
of polemical writing, in which his pretensions 
were continually called to the bar of prejudice 
and party-spirit, and he had to plead not guilty 
to the indictment. Some men have died un- 
conscious of immortality, as others have amost 
exhausted the sense of it in their life-times. 
Correggio might be mentioned as an instance 
of the one, Voltaire of the other. 

There is nothing that helps a man in his con- 
duct through life more than a knowledge of his 
own characteristic weaknesses (which, guarded 
against, become his strength), as there is no- 
thing that tends more to the success of a man's 
talents than his knowing the limits of his facul- 
ties, which are thus concentrated on some prac- 
ticable object. One man can do but one thing. 
Universal pretensions end in nothing. Or, as 
Butler has it, too much wit requires 

" As much again to govern it." 

There are those who have gone, for want of this 
self-knowledge, strangely out of their way, and 
others who have never found it. We find many 
who succeed in certain departments, and are 
yet melancholy and dissatisfied because they 
failed in the one to which they first devoted 
themselves, like discarded lovers, who pine after 
their scornful mistress. I will conclude with 



ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER. 271 



observing, that authors in general overrate the 
extent and value of posthumous fame ; for what 
(as it has been asked) is the amount even of 
Shakespear's fame ? That in that very country 
which boasts his genius and his birth, perhaps, 
scarce one person in ten has ever heard of his 
name, or read a syllable of his writings ! 



ESSAY XIII. 



ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 
A FRAGMENT. 



The natural in visible objects is whatever is 
ordinarily presented to the senses i the pic- 
turesque is that which stands out, and catches 
the attention by some striking peculiarity : the 
ideal is that which answers to the preconceived 
imagination and appetite in the mind for love 
and beauty. The picturesque depends chiefly 
on the principle of discrimination or contrast ; 
the ideal on harmony and continuity of effect : 
the one surprises, the other satisfies the mind ; 
the one starts off from a given point, the other 
reposes on itself ; the one is determined by an 
excess of form, the other by a concentration of 
feeling. 

The picturesque may be considered as some- 
thing like an excrescence on the face of nature. 
It runs imperceptibly into the fantastical and 
grotesque. Fairies and satyrs are picturesque ; 



ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 273 

but they are scarcely ideal. They are an ex- 
treme aad unique conception of a certain thing, 
but not of what the mind delights in, or broods 
fondly over. The image created by the artist's 
hand is not moulded and fashioned by the love 
of good and yearning after grace and beauty, 
but rather the contrary : that is, they are ideal 
deformity, not ideal beauty. Rubens was per- 
haps the most picturesque of painters \ but he 
was almost the least ideal. So Rembrandt was 
(out of sight) the most picturesque of colourists; 
as Correggio was the most ideal. In other 
words, his composition of light and shade is 
more a whole, more in unison, more blended into 
the same harmonious feeling than Rembrandt's, 
who staggers by contrast, but does not soothe 
by gradation. Correggio's forms, indeed, had 
a picturesque air ; for they often incline (even 
when most beautiful) to the quaintness of ca- 
ricature. Vandyke, I think, was at once the 
least picturesque and least ideal of all the great 
painters. He was purely natural, and neither 
selected from outward forms nor added any- 
thing from his own mind. He owes everything 
to perfect truth, clearness, and transparency; 
and though his productions certainly arrest the 
eye, and strike in a room full of pictures, it is 
from the contrast they present to other pictures, 
and from being stripped quite naked of all ar- 
tificial advantages. They strike almost as a 

T 



274 ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 

piece of white paper would, hung up in the same 
situation. I began with saying that whatever 
stands out from a given line, and as it were 
projects upon the eye, is picturesque ; and this 
holds true (comparatively) in form and colour, 
A. rough terrier-dog, with the hair bristled and 
matted together, is picturesque. As we say, 
there is a decided character in it, a marked de- 
termination to an extreme point. A shock-dog 
is odd and disagreeable, but there is nothing 
picturesque in its appearance : it is a mere mass 
of flimsy confusion. A goat with projecting 
horns and pendent beard is a picturesque ani- 
mal : a sheep is not. A horse is only pic- 
turesque from opposition of colour; as in Mr 
Northcote's study of Gadshill, where the white 
horse's head coming against the dark scowling 
face of the man makes as fine a contrast as can be 
imagined. An old stump of a tree with rugged 
bark, and one or two straggling branches, a little 
stunted hedge-row line, marking the boundary 
of the horizon, a stubble-field, a winding path, 
a rock seen against the sky, are picturesque, be- 
cause they have all of them prominence and a 
distinctive character of their own. They are 
not objects (to borrow Shakespear's phrase) 
" of no mark or likelihood." A country may 
be beautiful, romantic, or sublime, without being 
picturesque. The Lakes in the North of Eng- 
land are not picturesque, though certainly the 



ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 275 

most interesting sight in this country. To be 
a subject for painting, a prospect must present 
sharp striking points of view or singular forms, 
or one object must relieve and set off another. 
There must be distinct stages and salient points 
for the eye to rest upon or start from, in its pro- 
gress over the expanse before it. That distance 
of a landscape will oftentimes look flat or heavy, 
which the trunk of a tree or a ruin in the foreground 
would immediately throw into perspective and 
turn to air. Rembrandt's landscapes are the least 
picturesque in the world, except from the straight 
lines and sharp angles, the deep incision and 
dragging of his pencil, like a harrow over the 
ground, and the broad contrast of earth and 
sky. Earth, in his copies, is rough and hairy ; 
and Pan has struck his hoof against it ! A 
camel is a picturesque ornament in a landscape 
or history- piece. This is not merely from its 
romantic and oriental character; for an elephant 
has not the same effect, and, if introduced as 2 
necessary appendage, is also an unwieldy in- 
cumbrance. A negro's head in a group is pic- 
turesque from contrast : so are the spots on a 
panther's hide. This was the principle that 
Paul Veronese went upon, who said the rule for 
composition was black upon white, and white 
upon black He was a pretty good judge. His 
celebrated picture of the Marriage of Cana is 
in all likelihood the completest piece of work- 



276 ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 



manship extant in the art. When I saw it, it 
nearly covered one side of a large room in the 
Louvre (being itself forty feet by twenty) ; and 
it seemed as if that side of the apartment was 
thrown open, and you looked out at the open 
sky, at buildings, marble pillars, galleries with 
people in them, emperors, female slaves, Turks, 
negroes, musicians, all the famous painters of 
the time, the tables loaded with viands, goblets, 
and dogs under them — a sparkling, overwhelm- 
ing confusion, a bright, unexpected reality — the 
only fault you could find was that no miracle 
was going on in the faces of the spectators : the 
only miracle there was the picture itself ! A 
French gentleman, who showed me this " tri- 
umph of painting" (as it has been called), per- 
ceiving I was struck with it, observed, " My 
wife admires it exceedingly for the facility of 
the execution." I took this proof of sympathy 
for a compliment. It is said that when Hum- 
boldt, the celebrated traveller and naturalist, 
was introduced to Buonaparte, the Emperor 
addressed him in these words — " Vous aimez la 
botanique, Monsieur" — and, on the other's re- 
plying in the affirmative, added — " Et ma femme 
aussi ! " This has been found fault with as a 
piece of brutality and insolence in the great 
man by bigoted critics, who do not know what 
a thing it is to get a Frenchwoman to agree with 
them in any point. For my part, I took the 



ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 277 

observation as it was meant, and it did not put 
me out of conceit with myself or the picture 
that Madame M liked it as well as Mon- 
sieur V Anglais. Certainly, there could be no 
harm in that. By the side of it happened to be 
hung two allegorical pictures of Rubens (and in 
such matters he too was u no baby* ") — I do not 
remember what the figures were, but the texture 
seemed of wool or cotton. The texture of the 
Paul Veronese was not wool nor cotton, but stuff 
jewels, flesh, marble, air, whatever composed 
the essence of the varied subjects, in endless re- 
lief and truth of handling. If the Fleming had 
seen his two allegories hanging where they did, 
he would, without a question, have wished them 
far enough. 

I imagine that Rubens' s landscapes are pic- 
turesque : Claude's are ideal. Rubens is always 
in extremes : Claude in the middle. Rubens 
carries some one peculiar quality or feature of 
nature to the utmost verge of probability: Claude 
balances and harmonises different forms and 
masses with laboured delicacy, so that nothing 
falls short, no one thing overpowers another. 
Rainbows, showers, partial gleams of sunshine, 
moon-light are the means with which Rubens 
produces his most gorgeous and enchanting 



* " And surely Mandricardo was no baby." 

Harrington's Ariosto. 



278 ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 

effects : there are neither rainbows nor showers, 
nor sudden bursts of sunshine, nor glittering 
moon-beams in Claude. He is all softness and 
proportion : the other is all spirit and brilliant 
excess. The two sides (for example) of one of 
Claude's landscapes balance one another, as in 
a scale of beauty: in Rubens the several objects 
are grouped and thrown together with capricious 
wantonness. Claude has more repose : Rubens 
more gayety and extravagance. And here it 
might be asked, Is a rainbow a picturesque or 
an ideal object? It seems to me to be both. 
It is an accident in nature ; but it is an inmate 
of the fancy. It startles and surprises the sense, 
but it soothes and tranquillises the spirit. It 
makes the eye glisten to behold it, but the mind 
turns to it long after it has faded from its place 
in the sky. It has both properties, then, of giving 
an extraordinary impulse to the mind by the 
singularity of its appearance, and of riveting 
the imagination by its intense beauty. I may 
just notice here in passing, that I think the 
effect of moon-light is treated in an ideal manner 
in the well-known line in Shakespear— 

" See how the moon-light sleeps upon yon bank P 

The image is heightened by the exquisiteness 
of the expression beyond its natural beauty, and 
it seems as if there could be no end to the de- 



ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 279 

light taken in it. A number of sheep coming 
to a pool of water to drink, with shady trees in 
the back-ground, the rest of the flock following 
them, and the shepherd and his dog left care- 
lessly behind, is surely the ideal in landscape- 
composition, if the ideal has its source in the 
interest excited by a subject, in its power of 
drawing the affections after it linked in a golden 
chain, and in the desire of the mind to dwell on 
it for ever. The ideal, in a word, is the height 
of the pleasing, that which satisfies and accords 
with the inmost longing of the soul : the pic- 
turesque is merely a sharper and bolder im- 
pression of reality. A morning mist drawing a 
slender veil over all objects is at once pic- 
turesque and ideal: for it, in the first place, excites 
immediate surprise and admiration, and, in the 
next, a wish for it to continue, and a fear lest it 
should be too soon dissipated. Is the Cupid 
riding on a lion in the ceiling at Whitehall, and 
urging him with a spear over a precipice, with 
only clouds and sky beyond, most picturesque 
or ideal ? It has every effect of startling con- 
trast and situation, and yet inspires breathless 
expectation and wonder for the event. Rem- 
brandt's Jacob's Dream, again, is both— fearful 
to the eye, but realising that loftiest vision of 
the soul. Take two faces in Leonardo da 
Vinci's Last Supper, the Judas and the St 
J ohn : the one is all strength and repulsive cha- 
racter; the other is all divine grace and mild 



280 ON THE PICTURESQUE AND IDEAL. 



sensibility. The individual, the characteristic 
in painting, is that which is in a marked manner 
— the ideal is that which we wish anything to 
be, and to contemplate without measure and 
without end. The first is truth, the last is good. 
The one appeals to the sense and understanding, 
the other to the will and the affections. The 
truly beautiful and grand attracts the mind to 
it by instinctive harmony, is absorbed in it, and 
nothing can ever part them afterwards. Look 
at a Madonna of Raffael's : what gives the ideal 
character to the expression, — the insatiable 
purpose of the soul, or its measureless content 
in the object of its contemplation ? A portrait 
of Vandyke's is mere indifference and still-life 
in the comparison : it has not in it the principle 
of growing and still unsatisfied desire. In the 
ideal there is no fixed stint or limit but the limit 
of possibility: it is the infinite with respect to 
human capacities and wishes. Love is for this 
reason an ideal passion. We give to it our all 
of hope, of fear, of present enjoyment, and stake 
our last chance of happiness wilfully and des- 
perately upon it. A good authority puts into 
the mouth of one of his heroines— 

" My bounty is as boundless as the sea, 
My love as deep !" — 

How many fair catechumens will there be found 
in all ages to repeat as much after Shakespear's 
Juliet ! 



ESSAY XIV. 

ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



" And our little life is rounded with a sleep. 

Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death 
is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as 
an end. There was a time when we were not : 
this gives us no concern — why, then, should it 
trouble us that a time will come when we shall 
cease to be ? I have no wish to have been alive 
a hundred years ago, or in the reign of Queen 
Anne : why should I regret and lay it so much 
to heart that 1 shall not be alive a hundred 
years hence, in the reign of I cannot tell 
whom ? 

When Bickerstaff wrote his Essays, I knew 
nothing of the subjects of them : nay, much 
later, and but the other clay, as it were, in the 
beginning of the reign of George lit. when 
Goldsmith, Johnson, Burke, used to meet at 



282 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



the Globe, when Garrick was in his glory, and 
Reynolds was over head and ears with his por- 
traits, and Sterne brought out the volumes of 
Tristram Shandy year by year, it was without 
consulting me : I had not the slightest intima- 
tion of what was going on : the debates in the 
House of Commons on the American war, or the 
firing at Bunker's hill, disturbed not me : yet I 
thought this no evil — I neither ate, drank, nor 
was merry, yet I did not complain : I had not 
then looked out into this breathing world, yet I 
was well ; and the world did quite as well with- 
out me as I did without it ! Why, then, should 
I make all this outcry about parting with it, and 
being no worse off than I was before? There 
is in the recollection that at a certain time we 
were not come into the world, nothing that 
" the gorge rises at" — why should we revolt at 
the idea that we must one day go out of it? To 
die is only to be as we were before we were 
born ; yet no one feels any remorse, or regret, 
or repugnance, in contemplating this last idea. 
It is rather a relief and disburdening of the 
mind : it seems to have been holiday -time with 
us then : we were not called to appear upon the 
stage of life, to wear robes and tatters, to laugh 
or cry, be hooted or applauded; we had lain 
perdus all this while, snug, out of harm's way; 
and had slept out our thousands of centuries 
without wanting to be waked up; at peace and 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 283 



free from care, in a long nonage, in a sleep 
deeper and calmer than that of infancy, wrapped 
in the softest and finest dust. And the worst 
that we dread is, after a short, fretful, feverish 
being, after vain hopes, and idle fears, to sink 
to final repose again, and forget the troubled 

dream of life! Ye armed men,, knights 

templars, that sleep in the stone aisles of that 
old Temple church, where all is silent above, 
and where a deeper silence reigns below (not 
broken by the pealing organ), are ye not con- 
tented where ye lie ? Or would you come out 
of your long homes to go to the Holy War ? 
Or do ye complain that pain no longer visits 
you, that sickness has done its worst, that you 
have paid the last debt to nature, that you hear 
no more of the thickening phalanx of the foe, 
or your lady's waning love; and that, while this 
ball of earth rolls its eternal round, no sound 
shall ever pierce through to disturb your lasting 
repose, fixed as the marble over your tombs, 
breathless as the grave that holds you ? And 
thou, oh ! thou, to whom my heart turns, and 
will turn while it has feeling left, who didst love 
in vain, and whose first was thy last sigh, wilt 
not thou too rest in peace (or wilt thou cry to 
me complaining from thy clay- cold bed) when 
that sad heart is no longer sad, and that sorrow 
is dead which thou wert only called into the 
world to feel! 



284 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



It is certain that there is nothing in the idea 
of a pre-existent state that excites our longing 
like the prospect of a posthumous existence. 
We are satisfied to have begun life when we 
did; we have no ambition to have set out on 
our journey sooner ; and we feel that we have had 
quite enough to do to battle our way through 
since. We cannot say, 

" The wars we well remember of King Nine, 
Of old Assaracus and Inachus divine.'* 

Neither have we any wish : we are contented to 
read of them in story, and to stand and gaze at 
the vast sea of time that separates us from them. 
It was early days then : the world was not well- 
aired enough for us : we have no inclination to 
have been up and stirring. We do not consider 
the six thousand years of the world before we 
were born as so much time lost to us: we are 
perfectly indifferent about the matter. We do 
not grieve and lament that we did not happen 
to be in time to see the grand mask and pageant 
of human life going on in all that period ; though 
we are mortified at being obliged to quit our 
stand before the rest of the procession passes. 

It may be suggested in explanation of this 
difference, that we know from various records 
and traditions what happened in the time of 
Queen Anne, or even in the reigns of the As- 
syrian monarchs : but that we have no means of 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 285 



ascertaining what is to happen hereafter but by- 
awaiting the event, and that our eagerness and 
curiosity are sharpened in proportion as we are 
in the dark about it. This is not at all the case ; 
for at that rate we should be constantly wishing 
to make a voyage of discovery to Greenland or 
to the Moon, neither of which we have, in ge- 
neral, the least desire to do. Neither, in truth, 
have we any particular solicitude to pry into the 
secrets of futurity, but as a pretext for prolong- 
ing our own existence. It is not so much that 
we care to be alive a hundred or a thousand 
years hence, any more than to have been alive 
a hundred or a thousand years ago : but the 
thing lies here, that we would all of us wish the 
present moment to last for ever. We would be 
as we are, and would have the world remain 
just as it is, to please us. 

" The present eye catches the present object" — 

to have and to hold while it may ; and abhors, 
on any terms, to have it torn from us, and no- 
thing left in its room. It is the pang of parting, 
the unloosing our grasp, the breaking asunder 
some strong tie, the leaving some cherished 
purpose unfulfilled, that creates the repugnance 
to go, and " makes calamity of so long life," as 
it often is. 

u Oh ! thou strong heart ! 

There's such a covenant 'twixt the world and thee, 
They 're loth to break !" 



286 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 

The love of life, then, is an habitual attachment, 
not an abstract principle. Simply to be does 
not " content man's natural desire : " we long 
to be in a certain time, place, and circumstance. 
We would much rather be now u on this bank 
and shoal of time," than have our choice of any 
future period, than take a slice of fifty or sixty 
years out of the Millennium, for instance. This 
shows that our attachment is not confined either 
to being or to well-being ; but that we have an 
inveterate prejudice in favour of our immediate 
existence, such as it is. The mountaineer will 
not leave his rock, nor the savage his hut ; nei- 
ther are we willing to give up our present mode 
of life, with all its advantages and disadvantages, 
for any other that could be substituted for it. 
No man would, I think, exchange his existence 
with any other man, however fortunate. We 
had as lief not be, as not be ourselves. There 
are some persons of that reach of soul that they 
would like to live two hundred and fifty years 
hence, to see to what height of empire America 
will have grown up in that period, or whether 
the English constitution will last so long. These 
are points beyond me. But I confess I should 
like to live to see the downfal of the Bourbons. 
That is a vital question with me ; and I shall 
like it the better, the sooner it happens I 

No young man ever thinks he shall die. He 
may believe that others will, or assent to the 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 287 

doctrine that " all men are mortal " as an ab- 
stract proposition, but he is far enough from 
bringing it home to himself individually.* 
Youth, buoyant activity, and animal spirits, hold 
absolute antipathy with old age as well as with 
death ; nor have we, in the hey-day of life, any 
more than in the thoughtlessness of childhood, 
the remotest conception how 

" This sensible warm motion can become 
A kneaded clod" — 

nor how sanguine, florid health and vigour, 
shall " turn to withered, weak, and grey." Or 
if in a moment of idle speculation we indulge 
in this notion of the close of life as a theory, it 
is amazing at what a distance it seems ; what a 
long, leisurely interval there is between ; what 
a contrast its slow and solemn approach affords 
to our present gay dreams of existence ! We 
eye the farthest verge of the horizon, and think 
what a way we shall have to look back upon ere 
we arrive at our journey's end ; and, without our 
in the least suspecting it, the mists are at our 
feet, and the shadows of age encompass us. The 
two divisions of our lives have melted into each 
other : the extreme points close and meet with 
none of that romantic interval stretching out 



* 44 All men think all men mortal but themselves.'* 

Young. 



288 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



between them that we had reckoned upon ; and 
for the rich, melancholy, solemn hues of age, 
" the sear, the yellow leaf," the deepening sha- 
dows of an autumnal evening, we only feel a 
dank, cold mist, encircling all objects, after the 
spirit of youth is fled. There is no inducement 
to look forward ; and what is worse, little in- 
terest in looking back to what has become so 
trite and common. The pleasures of our exist- 
ence have worn themselves out, are " gone into 
the wastes of time," or have turned their indif- 
ferent side to us : the pains by their repeated 
blows have worn us out, and have left us neither 
spirit nor inclination to encounter them again 
in retrospect. We do not want to rip up old 
grievances, nor to renew our youth like the 
phcenix, nor to live our lives twice over. Once 
is enough. As the tree falls, so let it lie. Shut 
up the book and close the account once for all ! 

It has been thought by some that life is like 
the exploring of a passage that grows narrower 
and darker the farther we advance, without a 
possibility of ever turning back, and where we 
are stifled for want of breath at last. For my- 
self, I do not complain of the greater thickness 
of the atmosphere as I approach the narrow 
house. I felt it more, formerly,* when the idea 

* I remember once, in particular, having this feeling 
in reading Schiller's Don Carlos, where there is a descrip- 
tion of death, in a degree that almost stifled me. 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 289 

alone seemed to suppress a thousand rising hopes, 
and weighed upon the pulses of the blood. At 
present I rather feel a thinness and want of sup- 
port, I stretch out my hand to some object and 
find none, I am too much in a world of abstrac- 
tion ; the naked map of life is spread out before 
me, and in the emptiness and desolation I see 
Death coming to meet me. In my youth I 
could not behold him for the crowd of objects 
and feelings, and Hope stood always between 
us, saying — " Never mind that old fellow !" If 
I had lived indeed, I should not care to die. 
But I do not like a contract of pleasure broken 
off unfulfilled, a marriage with joy unconsum- 
mated, a promise of happiness rescinded. My 
public and private hopes have been left a ruin, 
or remain only to mock me. I would wish them 
to be re-edified. I should like to see some pro- 
spect of good to mankind, such as my life began 
with. I should like to leave some sterling work 
behind me. I should like to have some friendly 
hand to consign me to the grave. On these 
conditions I am ready, if not willing, to depart. 
I shall then write on my tomb — Grateful and 
Contented ! But I have thought and suffered 
too much to be willing to have thought and 
suffered in vain. In looking back, it some- 
times appears to me as if I had, in a manner, 
slept out my life in a dream or shadow on the 
side of the hill of knowledge, where I have fed 

v 



290 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 

on books, on thoughts, on pictures, and only 
heard in half-murmurs the trampling of busy- 
feet, or the noises of the throng below. Waked 
out of this dim, twilight existence, and startled 
with the passing scene, I have felt a wish to de- 
scend to the world of realities, and join in the 
chase. But I fear too late, and that I had bet- 
ter return to my bookish chimeras and indolence 
once more ! Zanetto, lascia le donne, et studia 
la matematica. I will think of it. 

It is not wonderful that the contemplation 
and fear of death become more familiar to us as 
we approach nearer to it : that life seems to ebb 
with the decay of blood and youthful spirits ; 
and that as we find everything about us sub- 
ject to chance and change, — as our strength and 
beauty die, — as our hopes and passions, our friends 
and our affections, leave us, we begin by degrees 
to feel ourselves mortal ! 

I have never seen death but once, and that 
was in an infant. It is years ago. The look 
was calm and placid, and the face was fair and 
firm. It was as if a waxen image had been laid 
out in the coffin, and strewed with innocent 
flowers. It was not like death, but more like 
an image of life! No breath moved the lips, 
no pulse stirred, no sight or sound would enter 
those eyes or ears more. While I looked at it, I 
saw no pain was there; it seemed to smile at the 
short pang of life which was over: but I could 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 291 

not bear the coffin-lid to be closed — it seemed 
to stifle me; and still as the nettles wave in a 
corner of the churchyard over his little grave, 
the welcome breeze helps to refresh me, and 
ease the tightness at my breast ! 

An ivory or marble image, like Chantry's 
monument of the two children, is contemplated 
with pure delight. Why do we not grieve and 
fret that the marble is not alive, or fancy that 
it has a shortness of breath? It never was 
alive; and it is the difficulty of making the 
transition from life to death, the struggle be- 
tween the two in our imagination, that con- 
founds their properties painfully together, and 
makes us conceive that the infant that is but 
just dead, still wants to breathe, to enjoy and 
look about it, and is prevented by the icy hand 
of death, locking up its faculties and benumbing 
its senses; so that, if it could, it would complain 
of its own hard state. Perhaps religious con- 
siderations reconcile the mind to this change 
sooner than any others, by representing the 
spirit as fled to another sphere, and leaving the 
body behind it. So in reflecting on death ge- 
nerally, we mix up the idea of life with it, and 
thus make it the ghastly monster it is. We think 
how we should feel ; not how the dead feel : 

" Still from the tomb the voice of nature cries ; 
Even in our ashes live their wonted fires !" 



292 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



There is an admirable passage on this subject 
in Tucker's Light of Nature Pursued, which I 
shall transcribe, as by much the best illustration 
I can offer of it. 

' " The melancholy appearance of a lifeless 
body, — the mansion provided for it to inhabit, 
dark, cold, close and solitary, — are shocking to 
the imagination; but it is to the imagination 
only, not the understanding ; for whoever con- 
sults this faculty will see at first glance, that 
there is nothing dismal in all these circum- 
stances : if the corpse were kept wrapped up in 
a warm bed, with a roasting fire in the chamber, 
it would feel no comfortable warmth therefrom : 
were stores of tapers lighted up as soon as day 
shuts in, it would see no objects to divert it: 
were it left at large, it would have no liberty, 
nor if surrounded with company would be 
cheered thereby; neither are the distorted fea- 
tures expressions of pain, uneasiness, or distress. 
This every one knows, and will readily allow 
upon being suggested, yet still cannot behold, 
nor even cast a thought upon those objects 
without shuddering; for, knowing that a living 
person must suffer grievously under such ap- 
pearances, they become habitually formidable 
to the mind, and strike a mechanical horror, 
w r hich is increased by the customs of the world 
around us." 

There is usually one pang added voluntarily 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



293 



and unnecessarily to the fear of death, by our 
affecting to compassionate the loss which others 
will have in us. If that were all, we might rea- 
sonably set our minds at rest. The pathetic 
exhortations on country tombstones, " Grieve 
not for me, my wife and children dear," &c. is 
for the most part speedily followed to the letter. 
We do not leave so great a void in society as we 
are inclined to imagine, partly to magnify our 
own importance, and partly to console ourselves? 
by sympathy. Even in the same family the 
gap is not so great ; the wound closes up sooner 
than we should expect. Nay, our room is not 
unfrequently thought better than our company. 
People walk along the streets the day after our 
deaths just as they did before, and the crowd 
is not diminished. While we were living, the 
world seemed in a manner to exist only for us, 
for our delight and amusement, because it con- 
tributed to them. But our hearts cease to beat, 
and it goes on as usual, and thinks no more 
about us than it did in our life-time. The mil- 
lion are devoid of sentiment, and care as little 
for you or me as if we belonged to the moon. 
We live the week over in the Sunday's paper, 
or are decently interred in some obituary at the 
month's end ! It is not surprising that we are 
forgotten so soon after we quit this mortal stager 
we are scarcely noticed, while we are on it. It 
is not merely that our names are not known in 



294 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



China — they have hardly been heard of in the 
next street. We are hand and glove with the 
universe, and think the obligation is mutual, 
This is an evident fallacy. If this, however, 
does not trouble us now, it will not hereafter. 
A handful of dust can have no quarrel to pick 
with its neighbours, or complaint to make against 
Providence, and might well exclaim, if it had 
but an understanding and a tongue, " Go thy 
ways, old world, swing round in blue ether, vo- 
luble to every age, you and I shall no more 
jostle I" 

It is amazing how soon the rich and titled, 
and even some of those who have wielded great 
political power, are forgotten. 

" A little rule, a little sway, 
Is all the great and mighty hare 
Betwixt the cradle and the grave" — 

and, after its short date, they hardly leave a 
name behind them. " A great man's memory 
may, at the common rate, survive him half a 
year." His heirs and successors take his titles, 
his power and his wealth — all that made him 
considerable or courted by others ; and he has 
left nothing else behind him either to delight 
or benefit the world. Posterity are not by any 
means so disinterested as they are supposed to 
be. They give their gratitude and admiration 
only in return for benefits conferred. They 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



295 



cherish the memory of those to whom they are 
indebted for instruction and delight ; and they 
cherish it just in proportion to the instruction 
and delight they are conscious they receive. The 
sentiment of admiration springs immediately 
from this ground, and cannot be otherwise than 
well founded.* 

The effeminate clinging to life as such, as a 
general or abstract idea, is the effect of a highly 
civilized and artificial state of society. Men 
formerly plunged into all the vicissitudes and 
dangers of war, or staked their all upon a single 
die, or some one passion, which, if they could 
not have gratified, life became a burthen to them 
— now our strongest passion is to think, our 
chief amusement is to read new plays, new 
poems, new novels, and this w T e may do at our 
leisure, in perfect security, ad infinitum. If we 
look into the old histories and romances, before 



* It has been usual to raise a very unjust clamour 
against the enormous salaries of public singers, actors, and 
so on. This matter seems reducible to a moral equation. 
They are paid out of money raised by voluntary contri- 
butions in the strictest sense ; and if they did not bring 
certain sums into the treasury, the Managers would not 
engage them. These sums are exactly in proportion to 
the number of individuals to whom their performance 
gives an extraordinary degree of pleasure. The talents 
of a singer, actor, &c, are therefore worth just as much 
as they will fetch. 



296 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 

the belles-lettres neutralised human affairs, and 
reduced passion to a state of mental equivoca- 
tion, we find the heroes and heroines not setting 
their lives " at a pin's fee," but rather courting 
opportunities of throwing them away in very 
wantonness of spirit. They raise their fondness 
for some favourite pursuit to its height, to a 
pitch of madness, and think no price too dear to 
pay for its full gratification. Everything else 
is dross. They go to death as to a bridal bed, 
and sacrifice themselves or others without re- 
morse at the shrine of love, of honour, of reli- 
gion, or any other prevailing feeling. Romeo 
runs his " sea-sick, weary bark upon the rocks" 
of death, the instant he finds himself deprived 
of his Juliet; and she clasps his neck in their 
last agonies, and follows him to the same fatal 
shore. One strong idea takes possession of the 
mind and overrules every other ; and even life 
itself, joyless without that, becomes an object of 
indifference or loathing. There is at least 
more of imagination in such a state of things, 
more vigour of feeling and promptitude to act, 
than in our lingering, languid, protracted at- 
tachment to life for its own poor sake. It is, 
perhaps, also better, as well as more heroical, to 
strike at some daring or darling object, and if 
we fail in that, to take the consequences man- 
fully, than to renew the lease of a tedious, spi- 
ritless, charmless existence, merely (as Pierre 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 



297 



says) u to lose it afterwards in some vile brawl" 
for some worthless object. Was there not a 
spirit of martyrdom as well as a spice of the 
reckless energy of barbarism in this bold de- 
fiance of death ? Had not religion something to 
do with it ; the implicit belief in a future life, 
which rendered this of less value, and embodied 
something beyond it to the imagination ; so that 
the rough soldier, the infatuated lover, the va- 
lorous knight, &c. could afford to throw away 
the present venture, and take a leap into the 
arms of futurity, which tlje modern sceptic 
shrinks back from, with all his boasted reason 
and vain philosophy, weaker than a woman ! I 
cannot help thinking so myself ; but I have en- 
deavoured to explain this point before, and will 
not enlarge farther on it here. 

A life of action and danger moderates the 
dread of death. It not only gives us fortitude 
to bear pain, but teaches us at every step the 
precarious tenure on which we hold our present 
being. Sedentary and studious men are the 
most apprehensive on this score. Dr J ohnson 
was an instance in point. A few years seemed 
to him soon over, compared with those sweeping 
contemplations on time and infinity with which 
he had been used to pose himself. In the still- 
life of a man of letters, there was no obvious rea- 
son for a change. He might sit in an arm-chair 
and pour out cups of tea to all eternity. Would 



298 ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 

it had been possible for him to do so ! The most 
rational cure after all for the inordinate fear 
of death is to set a just value on life. If we 
merely wish to continue on the scene to indulge 
our headstrong humours and tormenting pas- 
sions, we had better begone at once ; and if we 
only cherish a fondness for existence according to 
the good we derive from it, the pang we feel at 
parting with it will not be very severe. 

I will add a remark, which in some degree 
breaks the abruptness of the transition from life 
to death, and renders it less shocking to the ima- 
gination than it usually appears. Death is com- 
monly represented as a monster that devours the 
whole man; the grave, as swallowing us entire; 
not only our future projects, but our past enjoy- 
ments as its prey, and all the pleasures of our 
lives collected together to make a rich banquet 
for the grim tyrant. But, in truth, Time has al- 
ready anticipated the work of Death, and left him 
but half his spoils ; for we die every moment of 
our lives. Death can only rob us of the future, 
the past he has no power over : our being gra- 
dually and silently slides from under us : our mo- 
mentary pleasures follow each other as bubbles rise 
and disappear on the water, or the snow that melts 
as it falls: our attachments, and friendships and 
desires wear out and are forgotten : the objects of 
them are dead to us, and we outlive not only 
them but ourselves. We ourselves have drunk 



ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. 299 

up the cup of life, and have left only the lees. 
The stroke of death does not level the stately- 
tree with all its blooming honours full upon it, 
but strikes the bare trunk and crumbling 
branches, and a few withered leaves. A shadow 
is all that generally remains of what we were, 
and we drag about a mockery of existence long 
after all the life of life is flown. It is the sense 
of self alone thai makes death formidable, and 
that hinders us from perceiving that our fleeting 
existence is long ago lost in itself. 



ESSAY XV. 

THE OPERA. 



The Opera is a fine thing : the only question 
is, whether it is not too fine. It is the most 
fascinating, and at the same time the most tanta- 
lising, of all places. It is not the too little, but 
the too much, that offends us. Every object 
is there collected, and displayed in ostentatious 
profusion, that can strike the senses or dazzle 
the imagination : music, dancing, painting, 
poetry, architecture, the blaze of beauty, " the 
glass of fashion, and the mould of form and 
yet one is not satisfied— for the multitude and 
variety of objects distract the attention, and, by 
flattering us with a vain show of the highest 
gratification of every faculty and wish, leave us 
at last in a state of listlessness, disappointment, 
and ennui. The powers of the mind are ex- 
hausted, without being invigorated ; our expec- 
tations are excited, not satisfied ; and we are at 
some loss to distinguish an excess of irritation 



THE OPERA. 



301 



from the height of enjoyment. To sit at the Opera 
for a whole evening is like undergoing the pro- 
cess of animal magnetism for the same length 
of time. It is an illusion and a mockery, where 
the mind is made " the fool of the senses," and 
cheated of itself ; where pleasure after pleasure 
courts us, as in a fairy palace ; where the Graces 
and the Muses, weaving in a gay, fantastic round 
with one another, still turn from our pursuit ; 
where art, like an enchantress with a thousand 
faces, still allures our giddy admiration, shifts 
her mask, and again eludes us. The Opera, in 
short, proceeds upon a false estimate of taste 
and morals ; it supposes that the capacity for 
enjoyment may be multiplied with the objects 
calculated to afford it. It is a species of intel- 
lectual prostitution; for we can no more receive 
pleasure from all our faculties at once than we 
can be in love w T ith a number of mistresses at 
the same time. Though we have different 
senses, we have but one heart ; and, if we at- 
tempt to force it into the service of them all at 
once, it must grow restive or torpid, hardened 
or enervated. The spectator may say to the 
sister-arts of Painting, Poetry, and Music, as 
they advance to him in a pas-de-trois at the 
Opera, " How happy could I be with either, 
were t'other dear charmers away but while 
" they all tease him together," the heart gives a 
satisfactory answer to none of them; — is ashamed 



302 



THE OPERA. 



of its want of resources to supply the repeated 
calls upon its sensibility, seeks relief from the 
importunity of endless excitement in fastidious 
apathy or affected levity ; and in the midst of 
luxury, pomp, vanity, indolence, and dissipation, 
feels only the hollow, aching void within, the 
irksome craving of unsatisfied desire, because 
more pleasures are placed within its reach 
than it is capable of enjoying, and the inter- 
ference of one object with another ends in a 
double disappointment. Such is the best ac- 
count I can give of the nature of the Opera, — 
of the contradiction between our expectations of 
pleasure and our uneasiness there, — of our very 
jealousy of the flattering appeals which are made 
to our senses, our passions, and our vanity, on 
all sides, — of the little relish we acquire for it, 
and the distaste it gives us for other things. Any 
one of the sources of amusement to be found 
there would be enough to occupy and keep the 
attention alive; the tout ensemble fatigues and 
oppresses it. One may be stifled to death with 
roses. A head- ache may be produced by a 
profusion of sweet smells or of sweet sounds ; 
but we do not like the head-ache the more on 
that account. Nor are we reconciled to it, even 
at the Opera. 

What makes the difference between an opera 
of Mozart's and the singing of a thrush con- 
fined in a wooden cage at the corner of the 



THE OPERA. 



303 



street ? The one is nature, and the other is 
art : the one is paid for, and the other is not. 
Madame Fodor sang the air of Vedrai Carino 
in 6 Don Giovanni' so divinely, because she was 
hired to sing it ; she sang it to please the audi- 
ence, not herself, and did not always like to be 
encored in it; but the thrush that awakes us at 
daybreak with its song, does not sing because 
it is paid to sing, or to please others, or to be 
admired or criticised. It sings because it is 
happy : it pours the thrilling sounds from its 
throat, to relieve the overflowings of its own 
heart — the liquid notes come from, and go to 
the heart, dropping balm into it, as the gushing 
spring revives the traveller's parched and faint- 
ing lips. That stream of joy comes pure and 
fresh to the longing sense, free from art and 
affectation ; the same that rises over vernal 
groves, mingled with the breath of morning, 
and the perfumes of the wild hyacinth ; it waits 
for no audience, it wants no rehearsing, and 
still— 

" Hymns its good God, and carols sweet of love." 

This is the great difference between nature and 
art, that the one is what the other seems to be, 
and gives all the pleasure it expresses, because 
it feels it itself. Madame Fodor sang as a mu- 
sical instrument may be made to play a tune, 
and perhaps with no more real delight; but it 



304 



THE OPERA. 



is not so with the linnet or the thrush, that sings 
because God pleases, and pours out its little soul 
in pleasure. This is the reason why its singing 
is (so far) so much better than melody or har- 
mony, than bass or treble, than the Italian or 
the German school, than quavers or crotchets, 
or half-notes, or canzonets, or quartetts, or any- 
thing in the world but truth and nature ! 

The Opera is the most artificial of all things. 
It is not only art, but ostentatious, unambiguous, 
exclusive art. It does not subsist as an imita- 
tion of nature, but in contempt of it ; and, 
instead of seconding, its object is to pervert 
and sophisticate all our natural impressions of 
things. When the Opera first made its appear- 
ance in this country, there were strong preju- 
dices entertained against it, and it was ridiculed 
as a species of the mock-heroic. The prejudices 
have worn out with time, and the ridicule has 
ceased ; but the grounds for both remain the 
same in the nature of the thing itself. At the 
theatre, we see and hear what has been said, 
thought, and done by various people elsewhere ; 
at the Opera, we see and hear what was never 
said, thought, or done any where but at the 
Opera. Not only is all communication with 
nature cut off, but every appeal to the imagi- 
nation is sheathed and softened in the melting 
medium of Siren sounds. The ear is cloyed 
and glutted with warbled ecstasies or agonies j 



THE OPERA. 



305 



while every avenue to terror or pity is carefully 
stopped up and guarded by song and recitative. 
Music is not made the vehicle of poetry, but 
poetry of music ; the very meaning of the words 
is lost or refined away in the effeminacy of a 
foreign language. A grand serious Opera is a 
tragedy wrapped up in soothing airs, to suit 
the tender feelings of the nurslings of fortune — 
where tortured victims swoon on beds of roses, 
and the pangs of despair sink in tremulous 
accents into downy repose. Just so much of 
human misery is given as is proper to lull those 
who are exempted from it into a deeper sense of 
their own security : just enough of the picture 
of human life is shewn to relieve their languor 
without disturbing their indifference ; — it is cal- 
culated not to excite their sympathy, but " with 
some sweet, oblivious antidote/' to pamper their 
sleek and sordid apathy. In a word, the whole 
business of the Opera is to stifle emotion in its 
birth, and to intercept every feeling in its pro- 
gress to the heart. Every impression that, left 
to itself, might sink deep into the mind, and 
wake it to real sympathy, is overtaken and baf- 
fled by means of some other impression, plays 
round the surface of the imagination, trembles 
into airy sound, or expires in an empty pageant. 
In the grand carnival of the senses the pulse of 
life is suspended, the link which binds us to 
humanity is broken ; the soul is fretted by the 

x 



306 



THE OPERA. 



sense of excessive softness into a feverish hectic 
dream ; truth becomes a fable ; good, and evil 
matters of perfect indifference, except as they 
can be made subservient to our selfish gratifica- 
tion ; and there is hardly a vice for which the 
mind is not thus gradually prepared, no virtue 
of which it is not rendered incapable ! 

But what shall I say of the company at the 
Opera ? Is it not grand, select, splendid, and 
imposing ? Do we not see there " the flower 
of Britain's warriors, her statesmen, and her 
fair," her nobles and her diplomatic characters ? 
First, one only knows the diplomatic characters 
by their taking prodigious quantities of snuff, and 
as to the great warriors, some that I know had 
better not show their faces — if there is any truth 
in physiognomy ; and as to great men, 1 know 
of but one in modern times, and neither Europe 
nor the Opera-house was big enough to hold 
him. With respect to Lords and Ladies, we see 
them as we do gilded butterflies in glass cases. 
We soon get tired of them, for they seem tired 
of themselves and one another. They gape, 
stare, affect to whisper, laugh, or talk loud, to 
fill up the vacuities of thought and expression. 
They do not gratify our predilection for happy 
faces ! But do we not feel the throb of pleasure 
from the blaze of beauty in the side-boxes ? 
That blaze would be brighter, were it not 
quenched in the sparkling of diamonds. As 



THE OPERA. 



307 



for the rest, the grapes are sour. Beauty is a 
thing that is not made only to be seen. Who 
can behold it without a transient wish to be 
near it, to adore, to possess it ? He must be a 
fool or a coxcomb, whom the sight of a beauty 
dazzles, but does not warm ; whom a thousand 
glances shot from a thousand heavenly faces 
pierce without wounding ; who can behold with- 
out a pang the bowers of Paradise opening to 
him by a thousand doors, and barred against 
him by magic spells ! — Bright creatures, fairest 
of the fair, ye shine above our heads, bright as 
Ariadne's crown, fair as the dewy star of even- 
ing : but ye are no more to us ! There is no 
golden chain let down to us from you : we have 
sometimes seen you at a play, or caught a glimpse 
of your faces passing in a coronet-coach ; but 

As I am growing romantic, I shall take a 

turn into the crush-room, where, following the 
train of the great statesmen, the warriors, and 
the diplomatic characters, I shall meet with a 
nearly equal display of external elegance and 
accomplishment, without the pride of sex, rank, 
or virtue ! If the women were all Junos before, 
here they are all Venuses, and no less God- 
desses ! Those who complained of inaccessible 
beauty before may here find beauty more acces- 
sible, and take their revenge on the boxes in the 
lobbies ! 



ESSAY XVI. 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE; OR, ADVICE TO 
A SCHOOL-BOY. 



My dear little Fellow, 

You are now going to settle at school, and may 
consider this as your first entrance into the 
world. As my health is so indifferent, and I 
may not be with you long, I wish to leave you 
some advice (the best I can) for your conduct in 
life, both that it may be of use to you, and as 
something to remember me by. I may at least 
be able to caution you against my own errors, if 
nothing else. 

As we went along to your new place of desti- 
nation, you often repeated that " You durst say 
they were a set of stupid, disagreeable people," 
meaning the people at the school. You were to 
blame in this. It is a good old rule to hope for 
the best. Always, my dear, believe things to 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 309 



be right till you find them the contrary ; and 
even then, instead of irritating yourself against 
them, endeavour to put up with them as well as 
you can, if you cannot alter them. You said 
" You were sure you should not like the school 
where you were going. " This was wrong. 
What you meant was that you did not like 
to leave home. But you could not tell whether 
you should like the school or not, till you had 
given it a trial. Otherwise, your saying that 
you should not like it was determining that you 
would not like it. Never anticipate evils ; or, 
because you cannot have things exactly as you 
wish, make them out worse than they are, 
through mere spite and wilfulness. 

You seemed at first to take no notice of your 
school-fellows, or rather to set yourself against 
them, because they were strangers to you. They 
knew as little of you as you did of them; so that 
this would have been a reason for their keeping 
aloof from you as well, which you would have 
felt as a hardship. Learn never to conceive a 
prejudice against others, because you know 
nothing of them. It is bad reasoning, and 
makes enemies of half the world. Do not think 
ill of them, till they behave ill to you ; and then 
strive to avoid the faults which you see in them. 
This will disarm their hostility sooner than 
pique, or resentment, or complaint. 

I thought you were disposed to criticise the 



310 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



dress of some of the boys as not so good as your 
own. Never despise any one for anything that 
he cannot help — least of all, for his poverty. I 
would wish you to keep up appearances yourself 
as a defence against the idle sneers of the world, 
but I would not have you value yourself upon 
them. I hope you will neither be the dupe nor 
victim of vulgar prejudices. Instead of saying 
above — " Never despise any one for anything 
that he cannot help" — I might have said — 
" Never despise any one at all for contempt 
implies a triumph over and pleasure in the ill of 
another. It means that you are glad and con- 
gratulate yourself on their failings or misfor- 
tunes. The sense of inferiority in others, with- 
out this indirect appeal to our self-love, is a 
painful feeling, and not an exulting one. 

You complain since, that the boys laugh at 
you and do not care about you, and that you are 
not treated as you were at home. My dear, that 
is one chief reason for your being sent to school, 
to inure you betimes to the unavoidable rubs 
and uncertain reception you may meet with in 
life. You cannot always be with me, and 
perhaps it is as well that you cannot. But you 
must not expect others to show the same con- 
cern about you as I should. You have hitherto 
been a spoiled child, and have been used to have 
your own way a good deal, both in the house 
and among your play-fellows, with whom you 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 311 



were too fond of being a leader: but you have 
good nature and good sense, and will get the 
better of this in time. You have now got among 
other boys who are your equals, or bigger and 
stronger than yourself, and who have something 
else to attend to besides humouring your whims 
and fancies, and you feel this as a repulse 
or piece of injustice. But the first lesson to 
learn is that there are other people in the world 
besides yourself. There are a number of boys 
in the school where you are, whose amusements 
and pursuits (whatever they may be) are and 
ought to be of as much consequence to them as 
yours can be to you, and to which therefore you 
must give way in your turn. The more airs 
of childish self-importance you give yourself, 
you will only expose yourself to be the more 
thwarted and laughed at. True equality is the 
only true morality or true wisdom. Remember 
always that you are but one among others, and 
you can hardly mistake your place in society. 
In your father's house you might do as you 
pleased : in the world, you will find competitors 
at every turn. You are not born a king's son, 
to destroy or dictate to millions : you can only 
expect to share their fate, or settle your differ- 
ences amicably with them. You already find it 
so at school 5 and I wish you to be reconciled to 
your situation as soon and with as little pain as 
you can. 



312 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE, 

It was my misfortune, perhaps, to be bred up 
among Dissenters, who look with too jaundiced 
an eye at others, and set too high a value on 
their own peculiar pretensions. From being 
proscribed themselves, they learn to proscribe 
others; and come in the end to reduce all 
integrity of principle and soundness of opinion 
within the pale of their own little communion. 
Those who were out of it, and did not belong to 
the class of Rational Dissenters, I was led erro- 
neously to look upon as hardly deserving the 
name of rational beings. Being thus satisfied 
as to the select few who are " the salt of the 
earth" it is easy to persuade ourselves that we 
are at the head of them, and to fancy ourselves 
of more importance in the scale of true desert 
than all the rest of the world put together, who 
do not interpret a certain text of Scripture in 
the manner that we have been taught to do. 
You will (from the difference of education) be 
free from this bigotry, and will, I hope, avoid 
everything akin to the same exclusive and 
narrow-minded spirit. Think that the minds 
of men are various as their faces — that the 
modes and employments of life are numberless 
as they are necessary — that there is more than 
one class of merit — that though others may be 
wrong in some things, they are not so in all — 
and that countless races of men have been born, 
have lived and died, wthout ever hearing of 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 313 

any one of those points in which you take a just 
pride and pleasure— and you will not err on the 
side of that spiritual pride or intellectual cox- 
combry which has been so often the bane of the 
studious and learned! 

I observe you have got a way of speaking 
of your school-fellows as "that Hoare, that 
Harris," and so on, as if you meant to mark 
them out for particular reprobation, or did not 
think them good enough for you. It is a bad 
habit to speak disrespectfully of others: for it 
will lead you to think and feel uncharitably 
towards them. Ill names beget ill blood. Even 
where there may be some repeated trifling pro- 
vocation, it is better to be courteous, mild, and 
forbearing, than captious, impatient, and fret- 
ful. The faults of others too often arise out 
of our own ill temper; or though they should 
be real, we shall not mend them by exasperat- 
ing ourselves against them. Treat your play- 
mates as Hamlet advises Polonius to treat the 
players, " according to your own dignity rather 
than their deserts." If you fly out at every- 
thing in them that you disapprove or think 
done on purpose to annoy you, you lie con- 
stantly at the mercy of their caprice, rudeness 
or ill-nature. You should be more your own 
master. 

Do not begin to quarrel with the world too 
soon : for, bad as it may be, it is the best we 



314 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

have to live in — here. If railing would have 
made it better, it would have been reformed 
long ago : but as this is not to be hoped for at 
present, the best way is to slide through it as 
contentedly and innocently as we may. The 
worst fault it has is want of charity: and 
calling knave and fool at every turn will not 
cure this failing. Consider (as a matter of 
vanity) that if there were not so many knaves 
and fools as we find, the wise and honest would 
not be those rare and shining characters that 
they are allowed to be ; and (as a matter of phi- 
losophy) that if the world be really incorrigible 
in this respect, it is a reflection to make one sad, 
not angry. We may laugh or weep at the mad- 
ness of mankind : we have no right to vilify 
them, for our own sakes or theirs. Misanthropy 
is not the disgust of the mind at human nature, 
but with itself; or it is laying its own exagge- 
rated vices and foul blots at the door of others ! 
Do not, however, mistake what I have here said. 
I would not have you, when you grow up, adopt 
the low and sordid fashion of palliating existing 
abuses or of putting the best face upon the worst 
things. I only mean that indiscriminate un- 
qualified satire can do little good, and that those 
who indulge in the most revolting speculations 
on human nature do not themselves always set 
the fairest examples, or strive to prevent its 
lower degradation. They seem rather willing 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



315 



to reduce it to their theoretical standard. For 
the rest, the very outcry that is made (if sincere) 
shews that things cannot be quite so bad as they 
are represented. The abstract hatred and scorn 
of vice implies the capacity for virtue : the im- 
patience expressed at the most striking instances 
of deformity proves the innate idea and love of 
beauty in the human mind. The best antidote 
I can recommend to you hereafter against the 
disheartening effect of such writings as those of 
Rochefoueault, Mandeville, and others, will be 
to look at the pictures of Raphael and Correggio. 
You need not be altogether ashamed, my dear 
little boy, of belonging to a species which could 
produce such faces as those; nor despair of 
doing something worthy of a laudable ambition, 
when you see what such hands have wrought ! 
You will, perhaps, one day have reason to thank 
me for this advice. 

As to your studies and school-exercises, I wish 
you to learn Latin, French, and dancing. I 
would insist upon the last more particularly, 
both because it is more likely to be neglected, 
and because it is of the greatest consequence to 
your success in life. Every thing almost depends 
upon first impressions ; and these depend (be- 
sides person, which is not in our power) upon 
two things, dress and address, which every one 
may command with proper attention. These 
are the small coin in the intercourse of life 



316 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

which are continually in request ; and perhaps 
you will find at the year's end, or towards the 
close of life, that the daily insults, coldness, or 
contempt, to which you have been exposed by a 
neglect of such superficial recommendations, are 
hardly atoned for by the few proofs of esteem 
or admiration which your integrity or talents 
have been able to extort in the course of it. 
When we habitually disregard those things which 
we know will ensure the favourable opinion of 
others, it shews we set that opinion at defiance, 
or consider ourselves above it, which no one 
ever did with impunity. An inattention to our 
own persons implies a disrespect to others, and 
may often be traced no less to a want of good- 
nature than of good sense. The old maxim — 
Desire to please, and you will infallibly please — 
explains the whole matter. If there is a ten- 
dency to vanity and affectation on this side of 
the question, there is an equal alloy of pride and 
obstinacy on the opposite one. Slovenliness 
may at any time be cured by an effort of resolu- 
tion, but a graceful carriage requires an early 
habit, and in most cases the aid of the dancing- 
master. I would not have you, from not know- 
ing how to enter a room properly, stumble at 
the very threshold in the good graces of those 
on whom it is possible the fate of your future 
life may depend. Nothing creates a greater pre- 
judice against any one than awkwardness, A 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 317 



person who is confused is manner and gesture 
seems to have done something wrong, or as if he 
was conscious of no one qualification to build a 
confidence in himself upon. On the other hand, 
openness, freedom, self-possession, set others at 
ease with you by shewing that you are on good 
terms with yourself. Grace in women gains the 
affections sooner, and secures them longer, than 
any thing else — it is an outward and visible sign 
of an inward harmony of soul — as the want of 
it in men, as if the mind and body equally 
hitched in difficulties and were distracted with 
doubts, is the greatest impediment in the career 
of gallantry and road to the female heart. An- 
other thing I would caution you against is not to 
pore over your books till you are bent almost 
double — a habit you will never be able to get 
the better of, and which you will find of serious 
ill consequence. A stoop in the shoulders sinks a 
man in public and in private estimation. You 
are at present straight enough, and you walk 
with boldness and spirit. Do nothing to take 
away the use of your limbs, or the spring and 
elasticity of your muscles. As to all worldly 
advantages, it is to the full of as much impor- 
tance that your deportment should be erect and 
manly as your actions. 

You will naturally find out all this and fall 
into it, if your attention is drawn out sufficiently 
to what is passing around you ; and this will be 



318 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



the case, unless you are absorbed too much in 
books and those sedentary studies, 

" Which waste the marrow, and consume the brain." 

You are, I think, too fond of reading as it is. 
As one means of avoiding excess in this way, I 
would wish you to make it a rule, never to read 
at meal -times, nor in company when there is 
any (even the most trivial) conversation going 
on, nor even to let your eagerness to learn en- 
croach upon your play-hours. Books are but 
one inlet of knowledge ; and the pores of the 
mind, like those of the body, should be left open 
to all impressions. I applied too close to my 
studies, soon after I was of your age, and hurt 
myself irreparably by it. Whatever may be the 
value of learning, health and good spirits are 
of more. 

I would have you, as I said, make yourself 
master of French, because you may find it of 
use in the commerce of life ; and I would have 
you learn Latin, partly because I learnt it my- 
self, and I would not have you without any of 
the advantages or sources of knowledge that I 
possessed — it would be a bar of separation be- 
tween us — and secondly, because there is an at- 
mosphere round this sort of classical ground, 
to which that of actual life is gross and vulgar. 
Shut out from this garden of early sweetness, 
we may well exclaim — 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 319 



" How shall we part and wander down 
Into a lower world, to this obscure 
And wild ? How shall we breathe in other air 
Less pure, accustom'd to immortal fruits ?" 

I do not think the classics so indispensable to the 
cultivation of your intellect as on another account, 
which I have seen explained elsewhere, and you 
will have no objection to turn with me to the pas- 
sages. "The study of the classics is less to be re- 
garded as an exercise of the intellect, than as 
a discipline of humanity. The peculiar advan- 
tage of this mode of education consists not so 
much in strengthening the understanding, as in 
softening and refining the taste. It gives men 
liberal views ; it accustoms the mind to take an 
interest in things foreign to itself ; to love vir- 
tue for its own sake ; to prefer fame to life, and 
glory to riches ; and to fix our thoughts on the 
remote and permanent, instead of narrow and 
fleeting objects. It teaches us to believe that 
there is something really great and excellent in 
the world, surviving all the shocks of accident 
and fluctuations of opinion, and raises us above 
that low and servile fear, which bows only to 
present power and upstart authority. Rome and 
Athens filled a place in the history of mankind, 
which can never be occupied again. They were 
two cities set on a hill, which could not be hid ; 
all eyes have seen them, and their light shines 
like a mighty sea-mark into the abyss of time. 



320 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



' Still green with bays each ancient altar stands, 
Above the reach of sacrilegious hands ; 
Secure from flames, from envy's fiercer rage, 
Destructive war, and all-involving age. 
Hail, bards triumphant, born in happier days, 
Immortal heirs of universal praise ! 
Whose honours with increase of ages grow, 
As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow !' 

It is this feeling more than anything else which 
produces a marked difference between the study 
of the ancient and modern languages, and which, 
by the weight and importance of the conse- 
quences attached to the former, stamps every 
word with a monumental firmness. By con- 
versing with the mighty dead, we imbibe sen- 
timent with knowledge. We become strongly 
attached to those who can no longer either hurt 
or serve us, except through the influence which 
they exert over the mind. We feel the presence 
of that power which gives immortality to hu- 
man thoughts and actions, and catch the flame 
of enthusiasm from all nations and ages." 

Because, however, you have learnt Latin and 
Greek, and can speak a different language, do 
not fancy yourself of a different order of beings 
from those you ordinarily converse with. They 
perhaps know and can do more things than you, 
though you have learnt a greater variety of 
names to express the same thing by. The great 
object, indeed, of these studies is, to be " a cure 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 321 

for a narrow and selfish spirit," and to carry 
the mind out of its petty and local prejudices 
to the idea of a more general humanity. Do 
not fancy, hecause you are intimate with Homer 
and Virgil that your neighbours who can never 
attain the same posthumous fame are to be 
despised, like those impudent valets who live 
in noble families and look down upon every one 
else. Though you are master of Cicero's i Ora- 
tions/ think it possible for a cobbler at a stall to 
be more eloquent than you. " But you are a 
scholar, and he is not." Well, then, you have 
that advantage over him, but it does not follow 
that you are to have every other. Look at the 
heads of the celebrated poets and philosophers 
of antiquity in the collection at Wilton, and you 
will say they answer to their works ; but you 
will find others in the same collection whose 
names have hardly come down to us that are 
equally fine, and cast in the same classic mould. 
Do you imagine that all the thoughts, genius, 
and capacity of those old and mighty nations are 
contained in a few odd volumes, to be thumbed 
by school- boys? This reflection is not meant to 
lessen your admiration of the great names to 
which you will be accustomed to look up, but to 
direct it to that solid mass of intellect and power 
of which they were the most shining ornaments. 
I would wish you to excel in this sort of learn- 
ing and to take a pleasure in it, because it is the 

Y 



322 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

path that has been chosen for you ; but do not 
suppose that others do not excel equally in their 
line of study or exercise of skill, or that there 
is but one mode of excellence in art or nature. 
You have got on vastly beyond the point at 
which you set out ; but others have been getting 
on as well as you in the same or other ways, and 
have kept pace with you. What then, you may 
ask, is the use of all the pains you have taken, 
if it gives you no superiority over mankind in 
general ? It is this — You have reaped all the 
benefit of improvement and knowledge your- 
self ; and farther, if you had not moved for- 
wards, you would by this time have been left 
behind. Envy no one, disparage no one, think 
yourself above no one. Their demerits will not 
piece out your deficiencies ; nor is it a waste of 
time and labour for you to cultivate your own 
talents, because you cannot bespeak a monopoly 
of all advantages. You are more learned than 
many of your acquaintance who may be more 
active, healthy, witty, successful in business, or 
expert in some elegant or useful art than you ; 
but you have no reason to complain, if you 
have attained the object of your ambition. Or 
if you should not be able to compass this from 
a want of genius or parts, yet learn, my child, 
to be contented with a mediocrity of acquire- 
ments. You may still be respectable in your 
conduct, and enjoy a tranquil obscurity, with 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 323 

more friends and fewer enemies than you might 
otherwise have had. 

There is one almost certain drawback on a 
course of scholastic study, that it unfits men 
for active life. The ideal is always at variance 
with the practical. The habit of fixing the 
attention on the imaginary and abstracted de- 
prives the mind equally of energy and forti- 
tude. By indulging our imaginations on fictions 
and chimeras, where we have it all our own 
way and are led on only by the pleasure of 
the prospect, we grow fastidious, effeminate, 
lapped in idle luxury, impatient of contradic- 
tion, and unable to sustain the shock of real 
adversity, when it comes ; as by being taken 
up with abstract reasoning or remote events in 
which we are merely passive spectators, we have 
no resources to provide against it, no readiness, 
or expedients for the occasion, or spirit to use 
them, even if they occur. We must think again 
before we determine, and thus the opportunity 
for action is lost. While we are considering the 
very best possible mode of gaining an object, we 
find that it has slipped through our fingers, or 
that others have laid rude, fearless hands upon 
it. The youthful tyro reluctantly discovers that 
the ways of the world are not his ways, nor 
their thoughts his thoughts. Perhaps the old 
monastic institutions were not in this respect un- 
wise, which carried on to the end of life the 



324 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

secluded habits and romantic associations with 
which it began, and which created a privileged 
world for the inhabitants, distinct fi *om the com- 
mon world of men and women. You will bring 
with you from your books and solitary reveries 
a wrong measure of men and things, unless you 
correct it by careful experience and mixed ob- 
servation. You will raise your standard of cha- 
racter as much too high at first as from disap- 
pointed expectation it will sink too low after- 
wards. The best qualifier of this theoretical 
mania and of the dreams of poets and moralists 
(who both treat of things as they ovght to be 
and not as they are) is in one sense to be found 
in some of our own popular writers, such as our 
Novelists and periodical Essayists. But you 
had, after all, better wait and see what things 
are, than try to anticipate the results. You know 
more of a road by having travelled it than by 
all the conjectures and descriptions in the world. 
You will find the business of life conducted on a 
much more varied and individual scale than you 
would expect. People will be concerned about 
a thousand things that you have no idea of, and 
will be utterly indifferent to what you feel the 
greatest interest in. You will find good and 
evil, folly and discretion more mingled, and the 
shades of character running more into each 
other than they do in the ethical charts. No 
one is equally wise or guarded at all points, and 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



325 



it is seldom that any one is quite a fool. Do 
not be surprised, when you go out into the world, 
to find men talk exceedingly well on different 
subjects, who do not derive their information 
immediately from books. In the first place, the 
light of books is diffused very much abroad in 
the world in conversation and at second-hand ; 
and besides, common sense is not a monopoly, 
and experience and observation are sources of 
information open to the man of the world as 
well as to the retired student. If you know 
more of the outline and principles, he knows 
more of the details and u practique part of life." 
A man may discuss very agreeably the adven- 
tures of a campaign in which he was engaged 
without having read the Retreat of the Ten 
Thousand, or give a singular account of the 
method of drying teas in China without being a 
profound chemist. It is the vice of scholars to 
suppose that there is no knowledge in the world 
but that of books. Do you avoid it, I conjure 
you ; and thereby save yourself the pain and 
mortification that must otherwise ensue from 
finding out your mistake continually! 

Gravity is one great ingredient in the conduct 
of life, and perhaps a certain share of it is hardly 
to be dispensed with. Few people can afford to 
be quite unaffected. At any rate, do not put 
your worst qualities foremost. Do not seek to 
distinguish yourself by being ridiculous ; nor 



326 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



entertain that miserable ambition to be the sport 
and butt of the company. By aiming at a cer- 
tain standard of behaviour or intellect, you will 
at least show your taste and value for what is 
excellent. There are those who blurt out their 
good things with so little heed of what they are 
about that no one thinks anything of them ; as 
others by keeping their folly to themselves gain 
the reputation of wisdom. Do not, however, 
affect to speak only in oracles, or to deal in bon- 
mots : condescend to the level of the company, 
and be free and accessible to all persons. Ex- 
press whatever occurs to you, that cannot offend 
others or hurt yourself. Keep some opinions to 
yourself. Say what you please of others, but 
never repeat what you hear said of them to 
themselves. If you have nothing yourself to 
offer, laugh with the witty, — assent to the wise ; 
they will not think the worse of you for it. 
Listen to information on subjects you are ac- 
quainted with, instead of always striving to lead 
the conversation to some favourite one of your 
own. By the last method you will shine, but 
will not improve. I am ashamed myself ever 
to open my lips on any question I have ever 
written upon. It is much more difficult to be 
able to converse on an equality with a number 
of persons in turn, than to soar above their 
heads, and excite the stupid gaze of all compa- 
nies by bestriding some senseless topic of your 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



327 



own and confounding the understandings of 
those who are ignorant of it. Be not too fond 
of argument. Indeed, by going much into 
company (which I do not, however, wish you 
to do) you will be weaned from this practice, if 
you set out with it. Rather suggest what re- 
marks may have occurred to you on a subject 
than aim at dictating your opinions to others or 
at defending yourself at all points. You will 
learn more by agreeing in the main with others 
and entering into their trains of thinking, than 
by contradicting and urging them to extremi- 
ties. Avoid singularity of opinion as well as of 
everything else. Sound conclusions come with 
practical knowledge, rather than with speculative 
refinements : in what we really understand, we 
reason but little. Long-winded disputes fill up 
the place of common sense and candid inquiry. 
Do not imagine that you will make people 
friends by showing your superiority over them : 
it is what they will neither admit nor forgive, 
unless you have a high and acknowledged repu- 
tation beforehand, which renders this sort of 
petty vanity more inexcusable. Seek to gain 
the good-will of others rather than to extort 
their applause ; and to this end, be neither too 
tenacious of your own claims, nor inclined to 
press too hard on their weaknesses. 

Do not affect the society of your superiors in 
rank, nor court that of the great. There can be 



328 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



no real sympathy in either case. The first will 
consider you as a restraint upon them, and the 
last as an intruder, or upon sufferance. It is not 
a desirable distinction to be admitted into com- 
pany as a man of talents. You are a mark for 
invidious observation. If you say nothing, or 
merely behave with common propriety and sim- 
plicity, you seem to have no business there. If 
you make a studied display of yourself, it is 
arrogating a consequence you have no right to. 
If you are contented to pass as an indifferent 
person, they despise you ; if you distinguish 
yourself, and show more knowledge, wit, or taste 
than they do, they hate you for it. You have 
no alternative. I would rather be asked out to 
sing than to talk. Every one does not pretend 
to a fine voice, but every one fancies he has as 
much understanding as another. Indeed, the 
secret of this sort of intercourse has been pretty 
well found out. Literary men are seldom in- 
vited to the tables of the great; they send for 
players and musicians, as they keep monkeys 
and parrots ! 

I would not, however, have you run away 
with a notion that the rich are knaves, or that 
lords are fools. They are for what I know as 
honest and as wise as other people. But it is a 
trick of our self-love, supposing that another has 
the decided advantage of us in one way, to 
strike a balance by taking it for granted (as a 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 329 



moral antithesis) that he must be as much be- 
neath us in those qualities on which we plume 
ourselves, and which we would appropriate al- 
most entirely to our own use. It is hard indeed 
if others are raised above us not only by the 
gifts of fortune, but of understanding too. It 
is not to be credited. People have an unwill- 
ingness to admit that the House of Lords can 
be equal in talent to the House of Commons. 
So in the other sex, if a woman is handsome, 
she is an idiot or no better than she should be : 
in ours, if a man is worth a million of money, 
he is a miser, a fellow that cannot spell his own 
name, or a poor creature in some way, to bring 
him to our level. This is malice, and not truth. 
Believe all the good you can of every one. Do 
not measure others by yourself. If they have 
advantages which you have not, let your liber- 
ality keep pace with their good fortune. Envy 
no one, and you need envy no one. If you have 
but the magnanimity to allow merit wherever 
you see it — understanding in a lord or wit in a 
cobbler — this temper of mind will stand you 
instead of many accomplishments. Think no 
man too happy. Raphael died young. Milton 
had the misfortune to be blind. If any one is 
vain or proud, it is from folly or ignorance. 
Those who pique themselves excessively on some 
one thing have but that one thing to pique them- 
selves upon, as languages, mechanics, &c, I do 



330 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

not say that this is not an enviable delusion 
where it is not liable to be disturbed; but at 
present knowledge is too much diffused and pre- 
tensions come too much into collision for this to 
be long the case; and it is better not to form 
such a prejudice at first than to have it to undo 
all the rest of one's life. If you learn any two 
things, though they may put you out of conceit 
one with the other, they will effectually cure 
you of any conceit you might have of yourself 
by showing the variety and scope there is in 
the human mind beyond the limits you had set 
to it. 

You were convinced the first day that you 
could not learn Latin, which now you find easy. 
Be taught from this, not to think other obstacles 
insurmountable that you may meet with in the 
course of your life, though they seem so at first 
sight. 

Attend above all things to your health; or 
rather, do nothing wilfully to impair it. Use 
exercise, abstinence, and regular hours. Drink 
water when you are alone, and wine or very 
little spirits in company. It is the last that are 
ruinous by leading to unlimited excess. There 
is not the same headlong impetus in wine. But 
one glass of brandy and water makes you want 
another, that other makes you want a third, and 
so on in an increased proportion. Therefore no 
one can stop midway who does not possess the 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 331 

resolution to abstain altogether; for the inclina- 
tion is sharpened with its indulgence. Never 
gamble. Or if you play for any thing, never 
do so for what will give you uneasiness the next 
day. Be not precise in these matters ; but do 
not pass certain limits, which it is difficult to 
recover. Do nothing in the irritation of the mo- 
ment, but take time to reflect. Because you 
have done one foolish thing do not do another ; 
nor throw away your health, or reputation, or 
comfort, to thwart impertinent advice. Avoid 
a spirit of contradiction, both in words and 
actions. Do not aim at what is beyond your 
reach, but at what is within it. Indulge in 
calm and pleasing pursuits, rather than violent 
excitements; and learn to conquer your own 
will, instead of striving to obtain the mastery of 
that of others. 

With respect to your friends, I would wish 
you to choose them neither from caprice nor 
accident, and to adhere to them as long as you 
can. Do not make a surfeit of friendship, 
through over sanguine enthusiasm, nor expect 
it to last for ever. Always speak well of those 
with whom you have once been intimate, or 
take some part of the censure you bestow on 
them to yourself. Never quarrel with tried 
friends, or those whom you wish to continue 
such. Wounds of this kind are sure to open 
again. When once the prejudice is removed 



332 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

that sheathes defects, familiarity only causes 
jealousy and distrust. Do not keep on with a 
mockery of friendship after the substance is 
gone — but part, while you can part friends. 
Bury the carcase of friendship : it is not worth 
embalming. 

As to the books you will have to read by 
choice or for amusement, the best are the com- 
monest. The names of many of them are 
already familiar to you. Read them as you 
grow up with all the satisfaction in your power, 
and make much of them. It is perhaps the 
greatest pleasure you will have in life, the one 
you will think of longest, and repent of least. 
If my life had been more full of calamity than 
it has been (much more than I hope yours will 
be) I would live it over again, my poor little 
boy, to have read the books I did in my youth. 

In politics I wish you to be an honest man, 
but no brawler. Hate injustice and falsehood 
for your own sake. Be neither a martyr nor a 
sycophant. Wish well to the world without 
expecting to see it much better than it is ; and 
do not gratify the enemies of liberty by putting 
yourself at their mercy, if it can be avoided with 
honour. 

If you ever marry, I would wish you to marry 
the woman you like. Do not be guided by the 
recommendation of friends. Nothing will atone 
for or overcome an original distaste. It will 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 333 



only increase from intimacy ; and if you are to 
live separate, it is better not to come together. 
There is no use in dragging a chain through 
life, unless it binds one to the object we love. 
Choose a mistress from among your equals. You 
will be able to understand her character better, 
and she will be more likely to understand yours. 
Those in an inferior station to yourself will 
doubt your good intentions, and misapprehend 
your plainest expressions. All that you swear 
is to them a riddle or downright nonsense. You 
cannot by possibility translate your thoughts 
into their dialect. They will be ignorant of the 
meaning of half you say, and laugh at the rest. 
As mistresses, they will have no sympathy with 
you ; and as wives, you can have none with 
them. But they will do all they can to thwart 
you, and to retrieve themselves in their own 
opinion by trick and low cunning. No woman 
ever married into a family above herself that 
did not try to make all the mischief she could in 
it. Be not in haste to marry, nor to engage 
your affections, where there is no probability of 
a return. Do not fancy every woman you see 
the heroine of a romance, a Sophia Western, a 
Clarissa, or a J ulia ; and yourself the potential 
hero of it, Tom Jones, Lovelace, or St Preux. 
Avoid this error as you would shrink back from 
a precipice. All your fine sentiments and ro- 
mantic notions will (of themselves) make no 



334 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



more impression on one of these delicate 
creatures, than on a piece of marble. Their 
soft bosoms are steel to your amorous refine- 
ments, if you have no other pretensions. It is 
not what you think of them that determines 
their choice, but what they think of you. En- 
deavour, if you would escape lingering torments, 
and the gnawing of the worm that dies not, to 
find out this, and to abide by the issue. We 
trifle with, make sport of, and despise those 
who are attached to us, and follow those that fly 
from us. " We hunt the wind, — we worship a 
statue, — cry aloud to the desert." Do you, my 
dear boy, stop short in this career if you find 
yourself setting out in it, and make up your 
mind to this, that, if a woman does not like you 
of her own accord, that is, from involuntary im- 
pressions, nothing you can say or do or suffer 
for her sake will make her, but will set her the 
more against you. So the song goes — 

" Quit, quit for shame ; this will not move : 
If of herself she will not love, 
Nothing will make her, the devil take her!" 

Your pain is her triumph ; the more she feels 
you in her power, the worse she will treat you : 
the more you make it appear you deserve her re- 
gard, the more will she resent it as an imputation 
on her first judgment. Study first impressions 
above all things; for everything depends on 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



335 



them, in love especially. Women are armed by 
nature and education with a power of resisting 
the importunity of men, and they use this 
power according to their discretion. They en- 
force it to the utmost rigour of the law against 
those whom they do not like, and relax their 
extreme severity proportionably in favour of 
those that they do like, and who in general care 
as little about them. Hence we see so many 
desponding lovers and forlorn damsels. Love 
in women (at least) is either vanity, or interest, 
or fancy. It is a merely selfish feeling. It has 
nothing to do (I am sorry to say) with friend 
ship, or esteem, or even pity. I once asked a 
girl, the pattern of her sex in shape and mind 
and attractions, whether she did not think Mr 
Coleridge had done wrong in making the hero- 
ine of his beautiful ballad story of Genevieve 
take compassion on her hapless lover — 

" When on the yellow forest-leaves 
A dying man he lay — " 

And whether she believed that any woman ever 
fell in love through a sense of compassion ; and 
she made answer— " Not if it was against her 
inclination I" I would take this lady's word for 
a thousand pounds on this point. Pain holds 
antipathy to pleasure ; pity is not akin to love ; 
a dying man has more need of a nurse than of a 



336 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



mistress. There is no forcing liking. It is as 
little to be fostered by reason and good-nature 
as it can be controlled by prudence or propriety. 
It is a mere blind, headstrong impulse. Least 
of all, flatter yourself that talents or virtue will 
recommend you to the favour of the sex in lieu 
of exterior advantages. Oh ! no. Women care 
nothing about poets, or philosophers, or politi- 
cians. They go by a man's looks and manner. 
Richardson calls them " an eye-judging sex 
and I am sure he knew more about them than I 
can pretend to do. If you run away with a 
pedantic notion that they care a pin's point about 
your head or your heart, you will repent it too 
late. Some blue-stocking may have her vanity 
flattered by your reputation, or be edified by the 
solution of a metaphysical problem, or a critical 
remark, or a dissertation on the state of the 
nation, and fancy that she has a taste for intel- 
lect and is an epicure in sentiment. No true 
woman ever regarded anything but her lover's 
person and address. Gravity will here answer 
all the same purpose without understanding, 
gaiety without wit, folly without good-nature, 
and impudence without any other pretension. 
The natural and instinetive passion of love is 
excited by qualities not peculiar to artists, 
authors, and men of letters. It is not the jest 
but the laugh that follows, not the sentiment but 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 337 

the glance that accompanies it, that tells — in a 
word, the sense of actual enjoyment that imparts 
itself to others, and excites mutual understand- 
ing and inclination. Authors, on the other 
hand, feel nothing spontaneously. The common 
incidents and circumstances of life with which 
others are taken up, make no alteration in them, 
nor provoke any of the common expressions of 
surprise, joy, admiration, anger, or merriment. 
Nothing stirs their blood or accelerates their 
juices or tickles their veins. Instead of yield- 
ing to the first natural and lively impulses of 
things, in which they would find sympathy, they 
screw themselves up to some far-fetched view of 
the subject in order to be unintelligible. Reali- 
ties are not good enough for them, till they un- 
dergo the process of imagination and reflection. 
If you offer them your hand to shake, they will 
hardly take it ; for this does not amount to a 
proposition. If you enter their room suddenly, 
they testify neither surprise nor satisfaction: no 
new idea is elicited by it. Yet if you suppose 
this to be a repulse, you are mistaken. They 
will enter into your affairs or combat your ideas 
with all the warmth and vehemence imaginable 
as soon as they have a subject started. But 
their faculty for thinking must be set in motion, 
before you can put any soul into them. They 
are intellectual dram-drinkers ; and without 
their necessary stimulus, are torpid, dead, in- 

z 



338 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 

sensible to everything. They have great life of 
mind, but none of body. They do not drift with 
the stream of company or of passing occur- 
rences, but are straining at some hyberbole, or 
striking out a bye-path of their own. Follow 
them who list. Their minds are a sort of Her- 
culaneum, full of old, petrified images ; — are set 
in stereotype, and little fitted to the ordinary oc- 
casions of life. 

What chance, then, can they have with 
women, who deal only in the pantomime of dis- 
course, in gesticulation and the flippant bye- 
play of the senses, " nods and winks and 
wreathed smiles;" and to whom to offer a re- 
mark is an impertinence, or a reason an affront? 
The only way in which I ever knew men- 
tal qualities or distinction tell was in the cleri- 
cal character ; and women do certainly incline 
to this with some sort of favourable regard. 
Whether it is that the sanctity of pretension 
piques curiosity, or that the habitual submission 
of their understandings to their spiritual guides 
subdues the will, a popular preacher generally 
has the choice among the elite of his female 
flock. According to Mrs Inchbald (see her 
6 Simple Story') there is another reason why re- 
ligious courtship is not without its charms ! But 
as I do not intend you for the church, do not, 
in thinking to study yourself into the good 
graces of the fair, study yourself out of them, 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 339 

millions of miles. Do not place thought as a 
barrier between you and love : do not abstract 
yourself into the regions of truth, far from the 
smile of earthly beauty. Let not the cloud sit 
upon your brow: let not the canker sink into 
your heart. Look up, laugh loud, talk big, 
keep the colour in your cheek and the fire in 
your eye, adorn your person, maintain your 
health, your beauty, and your animal spirits, 
and you will pass for a fine man. But should 
you let your blood stagnate in some deep meta- 
physical question, or refine too much in your 
ideas of the sex, forgetting yourself in a dream 
of exalted perfection, you will want an eye to 
cheer you, a hand to guide you, a bosom to 
lean on, and will stagger into your grave, old 
before your time, unloved and unlovely. If 
you feel that you have not the necessary ad- 
vantages of person, confidence, and manner, and 
that it is up-hill work with you to gain the ear 
of beauty, quit the pursuit at once, and seek for 
other satisfactions and consolations. 

A spider, my dear, the meanest creature that 
crawls or lives, has its mate or fellow: but a 
scholar has no mate or fellow. For myself, I 
had courted thought, I had felt pain ; and Love 
turned away his face from me. I have gazed 
along the silent air for that smile which had 
lured me to my doom. I no more heard those 
accents which would have burst upon me like a 



340 ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE, 



voice from heaven. I loathed the light that 
shone on my disgrace. Hours, days, years passed 
away ; and only turned false hope to fixed de- 
spair. A.nd as my frail bark sails down the 
stream of time, the God of Love stands on the 
shore, and as I stretch out my hands to him in 
vain, claps his wings, and mocks me as I pass ! 

There is but one other point on which T meant 
to speak to you, and that is the choice of a pro- 
fession. This, probably, had better be left 
to time or accident or your own inclination. You 
have a very fine ear, but I have somehow a pre- 
judice against men -singers, and indeed against 
the stage altogether. It is an uncertain and un- 
grateful soil. All professions are bad that de- 
pend on reputation, which is (m as often got with- 
out merit as lost without deserving.' 7 Yet I 
cannot easily reconcile myself to your being a 
slave to business, and I shall be hardly able to 
leave you an independence. A situation in a 
public office is secure, but laborious and me- 
chanical, and without the two great springs of 
life, Hope and Fear. Perhaps, however, it 
might ensure you a competence, and leave you 
leisure for some other favourite amusement or 
pursuit. I have said all reputation is hazardous, 
hard to win, harder to keep. Many never attain 
a glimpse of what they have all their lives been 
looking for, and others survive a passing shadow 
of it. Yet if I were to name one pursuit rather 



ON THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. 



341 



than another, I should wish you to be a good 
painter, if such a thing could be hoped. I have 
failed in this myself, and should wish you to be 
able to do what I have not — to paint like Claude 
or Rembrandt or Guido or Vandyke, if it were 
possible. Artists, T think, who have succeeded 
in their chief object, live to be old, and are 
agreeable old men. Their minds keep alive to 
the last. Cosway's spirits never flagged till after 
ninety, and Nollekins, though nearly blind, 
passed all his mornings in giving directions 
about some group or bust in his workshop. You 
have seen Mr Northcote, that delightful speci- 
men of the last age. With what avidity he 
takes up his pencil, or lays it down again to talk 
of numberless things ! His eye has not lost its 
lustre, nor "paled its ineffectual fire." His body 
is a shadow : he himself is a pure spirit. There 
is a kind of immortality about this sort of ideal 
and visionary existence that dallies with Fate 
and baffles the grim monster, Death. If I 
thought you could make as clever an artist and 
arrive at such an agreeable old age as Mr 
Northcote, I should declare at once for your de- 
voting yourself to this enchanting profession ; 
and in that reliance, should feel less regret at 
some of my own disappointments, and little 
anxiety on your account ! 



ESSAY XVII. 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



" And of his port as meek as is a maid.*' 

Scholars lead a contemplative and retired life, 
both which circumstances must be supposed to 
contribute to the effect in question. A life of 
study is also conversant with high and ideal 
models, which gives an ambitious turn to the 
mind ; and pride is nearly akin to delicacy of 
feeling. 

That a life of privacy and obscurity should 
render its votaries bashful and awkward, or unfit 
them for the routine of society from the want 
both of a habit of going into company and from 
ignorance of its usages, is obvious to remark. 
No one can be expected to do that well or with- 
out a certain degree of hesitation and restraint, 
which he is not accustomed to do except on 
particular occasions, and at rare intervals. You 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 343 

might as rationally set a scholar or a clown on a 
tight-rope and expect them to dance gracefully 
and with every appearance of ease, as introduce 
either into the gay, laughing circle, and suppose 
that he will acquit himself handsomely and 
come off with applause in the retailing of anec- 
dote or the interchange of repartee. " If you 
have not seen the court, your manners must be 
naught; and if your manners are naught, you 
must be damned," according to Touchstone's 
reasoning. The other cause lies rather deeper, 
and is so far better worth considering, perhaps. 
A student, then, that is, a man who condemns 
himself to toil for a length of time and through 
a number of volumes in order to arrive at a 
conclusion, naturally loses that smartness and 
ease which distinguish the gay and thoughtless 
rattler. There is a certain elasticity of move- 
ment and hey-day of the animal spirits seldom 
to be met with but in those who have never 
cared for anything beyond the moment, or 
looked lower than the surface. The scholar 
having to encounter doubts and difficulties on 
all hands, and indeed to apply by way of prefer- 
ence to those subjects which are most beset 
with mystery, becomes hesitating, sceptical, 
irresolute, absent, dull. All the processes of his 
mind are slow, cautious, circuitous, instead of 
being prompt, heedless, straightforward. Find- 
ing the intricacies of the path increase upon him 



344 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



in every direction, this can hardly be supposed 
to add to the lightness of his step, the confidence 
of his brow as he advances. He does not skim 
the surface, but dives under it like the mole to 
make his way darkling, by imperceptible de- 
grees, and throwing up heaps of dirt and rub- 
bish over his head to track his progress. He 
is therefore startled at any sudden light, puzzled 
by any casual question, taken unawares and at 
a disadvantage in every critical emergency. 
He must have time given him to collect his 
thoughts, to consider objections, to make farther 
inquiries, and come to no conclusion at last. 
This is very different from the dashing, off-hand 
manner of the mere man of business or fashion ; 
and he who is repeatedly found in situations to 
which he is unequal (particularly if lie is of a 
reflecting and candid temper) will be apt to 
look foolish, and to lose both his countenance and 
his confidence in himself — at least as to the 
opinion others entertain of him, and the figure 
he is likely on any occasion to make in the eyes 
of the world. The course of his studies has not 
made him wise, but has taught him the uncer- 
tainty of wisdom ; and has supplied him with 
excellent reasons for suspending his judgment, 
when another would throw the casting-weight 
of his own presumption or interest into the 
scale. 

The inquirer after truth learns to take nothing 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 345 



for granted ; least of all, to make an assumption 
of his own superior merits. He would have 
nothing proceed without proper proofs and an 
exact scrutiny ; and would neither be imposed 
upon himself, nor impose upon others by shal- 
low and hasty appearances. It takes years of 
patient toil and devoted enthusiasm to master 
any art of science ; and after all, the success is 
doubtful. He infers that other triumphs must 
be prepared in like manner at an humble dis- 
tance : he cannot bring himself to imagine that 
any object worth seizing on or deserving of 
regard can be carried by a coup de main. So 
far from being proud or puffed up by them, 
he would be ashamed and degraded in his own 
opinion by any advantages that were to be 
obtained by such cheap and vulgar means as 
putting a good face on the matter, as strutting 
and vapouring about his own pretensions. He 
would not place himself on a level with bullies 
or coxcombs ; nor believe that those whose 
favour he covets can be the dupes of either. 
Whatever is excellent in his fanciful creed is 
hard of attainment ; and he would (perhaps 
absurdly enough) have the means in all cases 
answerable to the end. He knows that there 
are difficulties in his favourite pursuits to puzzle 
the will, to tire the patience, to unbrace the 
strongest nerves, and make the stoutest courage 
quail ) and he would fain think that if there is 



346 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 

any object more worthy than another to call 
forth the earnest solicitude, the hopes and fears 
of a wise man, and to make his heart yearn 
within him at the most distant prospect of 
success, this precious prize in the grand lottery 
of life is not to be had for the asking for, or 
from the mere easy indifference or overbearing 
effrontery with which you put in your claim. 
He is aware that it will be long enough before 
any one paints a fine picture by walking up and 
down and admiring himself in the glass ; or 
writes a fine poem by being delighted with the 
sound of his own voice; or solves a single pro- 
blem in philosophy by swaggering and haughty 
airs. He conceives that it is the same with the 
way of the world — woos the fair as he woos the 
Muse ; in conversation never puts in a word till 
he has something better to say than any one else 
in the room ; in business never strikes while 
the iron is hot, and flings away all his advan- 
tages by endeavouring to prove to his own and 
the satisfaction of others, that he is clearly 
entitled to them. It never once enters into his 
head (till it is too late) that impudence is the 
current coin in the affairs of life ; that he who 
doubts his own merit, never has credit given 
him by others ; that Fortune does not stay to 
have her overtures canvassed ; that he who 
neglects opportunity, can seldom command it a 
second time; that the world judge by appear- 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 347 



ances, not by realities 5 and (hat they sympathise 
more readily with those who are prompt to do 
themselves justice, and to show off their various 
qualifications or enforce their pretensions to the 
utmost, than with those who wait for others to 
award their claims, and carry their fastidious re- 
finement into helplessness and imbecility. Thus 
" fools rush in where angels fear to tread 5" and 
modest merits finds to its cost, that the bold hand 
and dauntless brow succeed where timidity and 
bashfulness are pushed aside ; that the gay, 
laughing eye is preferred to dejection and gloom, 
health and animal spirits to the shattered, sickly 
frame and trembling nerves; and that to suc- 
ceed in life, a man should carry about with 
him the outward and incontrovertible signs of 
success, and of his satisfaction with himself and 
his prospects, instead of plaguing every body 
near him with fantastical scruples and his ridi- 
culous anxiety to realise an unattainable standard 
of perfection. From holding back himself, the 
speculative enthusiast is thrust back by others : 
his pretensions are insulted and trampled on ; 
and the repeated and pointed repulses he meets 
with, make him still more unwilling to encoun- 
ter, and more unable to contend with those that 
await him in the prosecution of his career. He 
therefore retires from the contest altogether, or 
remains in the back-ground, a passive but un- 
easy spectator of a scene, in which he finds from 



348 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 

experience, that confidence, alertness, and super- 
ficial acquirements are of more avail than all 
the refinement and delicacy in the world. 
Action, in truth, is referable chiefly to quick- 
ness and strength of resolution, rather than to 
depth of reasoning or scrupulous nicety : again, 
it is to be presumed that those who show a pro- 
per reliance on themselves, will not betray the 
trust we place in them through pusillanimity 
or want of spirit : in what relates to the opinion 
of others, whieh i3 often formed hastily and on 
slight acquaintance, much must be allowed to 
what strikes the senses, to what excites the ima- 
gination ; and in all popular worldly schemes, 
popular and worldly means must be resorted to, 
instead of depending wholly on the hidden and 
intrinsic merits of the case. 

" In peace, there's nothing so becomes a man 
As modest stillness, and humility : 
But when the blast of war blows in our ears, 
Then imitate the action of the tiger ; 
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, 
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage : 
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect ; 
Let it pry through the portage of the head, 
Like the brass cannon ; let the brow o'er whelm it, 
As fearfully as doth a galled rock 
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base, 
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean." 

This advice (sensible as it is) is abhorrent to 
the nature of a man who is accustomed to place 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 349 



all his hopes of victory in reasoning and re- 
flection only. The noisy, rude, gratuitous suc- 
cess of those who have taken so much less pains 
to deserve it, disgusts and disheartens him— he 
loses his self-possession and self-esteem, has no 
standard left by which to measure himself or 
others, and as he cannot be brought to admire 
them, persuades himself at last that the blame 
rests with himself ; and instead of bespeaking a 
fashionable dress, learning to bow, or taking a 
few lessons in boxing or fencing to brace his 
nerves and raise his spirits, aggravates all his 
former faults by way of repairing them, grows 
more jealous of the propriety of every word and 
look, lowers his voice into a whisper, gives his 
style the last polish, reconsiders his arguments, 
refines his sentiments till they evaporate in a 
sigh, and thus satisfies himself that he can hardly 
fail ; that men judge impartially in the end, that 
the public will sooner or later do him justice, 
Fortune smile, and the Fair no longer be averse! 
Oh malore ! He is just where he was, or ten 
times worse off than ever. 

There is another circumstance that tends not 
a little to perplex the judgment, and add to the 
difficulties of the retired student, when he comes 
out into the world. He is like one dropped 
from the clouds. He has hitherto conversed 
chiefly with historic personages and abstract 
propositions, and has no just notion of actual 



350 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



men and things. He does not well know how 
to reconcile the sweeping conclusions he has 
been taught to indulge in to the cautious and 
pliant maxims of the world, nor how to compare 
himself, an inhabitant of Utopia, with sublunary 
mortals. He has been habituated all his life to 
look up to a few great names handed down by 
virtue or science as the " gods of his idolatry/' 
as the fixed stars in the firmament of reputation, 
and to have some respect for himself and other 
learned men as votaries at the shrine and as 
appreciating the merits of their idol; but all the 
rest of the world, who are neither the objects of 
this sort of homage, nor concerned as a sort of 
priesthood in collecting and paying it, he looks 
upon as actually nobody, or as worms crawling 
upon the face of the earth without intellectual 
value or pretensions. He is, therefore, a little 
surprised and shocked to find, when he deigns 
to mingle with his fellows, those every-day 
mortals, on ordinary terms, that they are of a 
height nearly equal to himself, that they have 
words, ideas, feelings in common with the best, 
and are not the mere cyphers he had been led 
to consider them. From having under-rated, 
he comes to over-rate them. Having dreamt of 
no such thing, he is more struck with what he 
finds than perhaps it deserves ; magnifies the 
least glimpse of sense or humour into sterling 
wit or wisdom ; is startled by any objection 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 351 



from so unexpected a quarter; thinks his own 
advantages of no avail, because they are not the 
only ones, and shrinks from an encounter with 
weapons he has not been used to, and from a 
struggle by w T hich he feels himself degraded. 
The Knight of La Mancha, when soundly beaten 
by the packstaves of the Yanguesian carriers, 
laid all the blame on his having condescended 
to fight with plebeians. The pride of learning 
comes in to aid the awkwardness and bashfulness 
of the inexperienced novice, converting his want 
of success into the shame and mortification of 
defeat in what he habitually considers as a con- 
test with inferiors. Indeed, those will always 
be found to submit with the worst grace to any 
check or reverse of this kind in common con- 
versation or reasoning, who have been taught to 
set the most exclusive and disproportioned value 
on letters : and the most enlightened and accom- 
plished scholars will be less likely to be humbled 
or put to the blush by the display of common 
sense or native talent, than the more ignorant, 
self-sufficient, and pedantic among the learned ; 
for that ignorance, self-sufficiency, and pedantry, 
are sometimes to be reckoned among the attri- 
butes of learning, cannot be disputed. These 
qualities are not very reconcilable with modest 
merit ; but they are quite consistent with a great 
deal of blundering, confusion, and want of tact 
in the commerce of the world. The genuine 



352 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 

scholar retires from an unequal conflict into 
silence and obscurity: the pedant swells into 
self-importance, and renders himself conspicuous 
by pompous arrogance and absurdity. 

It is hard upon those who have ever taken 
pains or done any thing to distinguish them- 
selves, that they are seldom the trumpeters of 
their own achievements ; and I believe it may 
be laid down as a rule, that we receive just as 
much homage from others as we exact from 
them by our own declarations, looks, and man- 
ner. But no one who has performed any thing 
great looks big upon it : those who have any 
thing to boast of are generally silent on that 
head, and altogether shy of the subject. With 
Coriolanus, they "will not have their nothings 
monster'd." From familiarity, his own acquire- 
ments do not appear so extraordinary to the 
individual as to ethers ; and there is a natural 
want of sympathy in this respect. No one who 
is really capable of great things is proud or vain 
of his success ; for he thinks more of what he 
had hoped or has failed to do, than of what he 
has done. A habit of extreme exertion, or of 
anxious suspense, is not one of buoyant, over- 
weening self-complacency : those who have all 
their lives tasked their faculties to the utmost, 
may be supposed to have quite enough to do 
without having much disposition left to antici- 
pate their success with confidence, or to glory 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 353 

in it afterwards. The labours of the mind, like 
the drudgery of the body, depress and take 
away the usual alacrity of the spirits. Nor can 
such persons be lifted up with the event ; for 
the impression of the consequences to result 
from any arduous undertaking must be light 
and vain, compared with the toil and anxiety 
accompanying it. It is only those who have 
done nothing, who fancy they can do every- 
thing ; or who have leisure and inclination to 
admire themselves. To sit before a glass and 
smile delighted at our own image, is merely a 
tax on our egotism and self-conceit ; and these 
are resources not easily exhausted in some 
persons ; or if they are, the deficiency is sup- 
plied by flatterers who surround the vain, like 
a natural atmosphere. Fools who take all their 
opinions at second-hand cannot resist the cox- 
comb's delight in himself ; or it might be said 
that folly is the natural mirror of vanity. The 
greatest heroes, it has often been observed, do 
not show it in their faces ; nor do philosophers 
affect to be thought wise. Little minds triumph 
on small occasions, or over puny competitors : 
the loftiest wish- for higher opportunities of 
signalising themselves, or compare themselves 
with those models that leave them no room for 
flippant exultation. Either great things are 
accomplished with labour and pains, which 
stamp their impression on the general cha- 

2 a 



354 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 

racter and tone of feeling ; or if this should 
not be the case (as sometimes happens), and 
they are the effect of genius and a happiness of 
nature, then they cost too little to be much 
thought of, and we rather wonder at others for 
admiring them, than at ourselves for having 
performed them. " Vix ea nostra voco" is the 
motto of spontaneous talent : and in neither 
case is conceit the exuberant growth of great 
original power or of great attainments. 

In one particular, the uneducated man carries 
it hollow against the man of thought and refine- 
ment : the first can shoot in the long bow, which 
the last cannot for the life of him. He who 
has spent the best part of his time and wasted 
his best powers in endeavouring to answer the 
question — "What is truth ?" — scorns a lie, and 
everything making the smallest approach to 
one. His mind by habit has become tenacious 
of, devoted to, the truth. The grossness and 
vulgarity of falsehood shock the delicacy of his 
perceptions, as much as it would shock the 
finest artist to be obliged to daub in a sign-post, 
or scrawl a caricature. He cannot make up 
his mind to derive any benefit from so pitiful 
and disgusting a source. Tell me that a man 
is a metaphysician, and at the same time that 
he is given to shallow and sordid boasting, and 
I will not believe you. After striving to raise 
himself to an equality with truth and nature by 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 355 



patient investigation and refined distinctions 
(which few can make) — whether he succeed or 
fail, he cannot stoop to acquire a spurious repu- 
tation, or to advance himself or lessen others by 
paltry artifice and idle rhodomontade, which 
are in every one's power who has never known 
the value or undergone the labour of discover- 
ing a single truth. Gross personal and local 
interests bear the principal sway with the igno- 
rant or mere man of the world, who considers 
not what things are in themselves, but what they 
are to him : the man of science attaches a higher 
importance to, because he finds a more constant 
pleasure in, the contemplation and pursuit of 
general and abstracted truths. Philosophy also 
teaches self-knowledge ; and self-knowledge 
strikes equally at the root of any inordinate 
opinion of ourselves, or wish to impress others 
with idle admiration. Mathematicians have 
been remarked for persons of strict probity and 
a conscientious and somewhat literal turn of 
mind.* But are poets and romance-writers 
equally scrupulous and severe judges of them- 
selves, and martyrs to right principle ? I 
cannot acquit them of the charge of vanity, and 

* I have heard it said that carpenters, who do every- 
thing by the square and line, are honest men, and I am 
willing to suppose it. Shakspeare, in the 4 Midsummer 
Night's Dream,' makes Snug the Joiner the moral man of 
the piece. 



356 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



a wish to aggrandise themselves in the eyes of 
the world, at the expense of a little false com- 
plaisance (what wonder when the world are so 
prone to admire, and they are so spoiled hy 
indulgence in self-pleasing fancies ?) — but in 
general they are too much taken up with their 
ideal creations, which have also a truth and 
keeping of their own, to misrepresent or exag- 
gerate matters of fact, or to trouble their heads 
about them. The poet's waking thoughts are 
dreams : the liar has all his wits and senses 
about him, and thinks only of astonishing his 
hearers by some worthless assertion, a mixture 
of impudence and cunning. But what shall 
we say of the clergy and the priests of all 
countries ? Are they not men of learning ? And 
are they not, with few exceptions, noted for 
imposture and time-serving, much more than 
for a love of truth and candour ? They are 
good subjects, it is true; bound to keep the 
peace, and hired to maintain certain opinions, 
not to inquire into them. So this is an ex- 
ception to the rule, such as might be expected. 
I speak of the natural tendencies of things, 
and not of the false bias that may be given to 
them by their forced combination with other 
principles. 

The worst effect of this depression of spirits, 
or of the " scholar's melancholy/' here spoken 
of, is when it leads a man, from a distrust of 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



357 



himself, to seek for low company, or to forget it 
by matching below himself. Gray is to be 
pitied, whose extreme diffidence or fastidious- 
ness was such as to prevent his associating" with 
his fellow collegians, or mingling with the herd ; 
till at length, like the owl, shutting himself up 
from society and daylight, he was hunted and 
hooted at like the owl whenever he chanced to 
appear, and was even assailed and disturbed 
in the haunts in which (i he held his solitary 
reign." He was driven from college to college, 
and subjected to a persecution the more harass- 
ing to a person of his indolent and retired 
habits. But he only shrunk the more within 
himself in consequence — read over his favourite 
authors — corresponded with his distant friends 
— was terrified out of his wits at the bare idea 
of having his portrait prefixed to his works ; and 
probably died from nervous agitation at the 
publicity into which his name had been forced 
by his learning, taste, and genius. This monas- 
tic seclusion and reserve is, however, better 
than a career such as Porson's ; who from not 
liking the restraints, or not possessing the exte- 
rior recommendations of good society, addicted 
himself to the lowest indulgencies, spent his 
days and nights in cider-cellars and pot-houses, 
cared not with whom or where he was, so that 
he had somebody to talk to and something to 
drink, "from humble porter to imperial tokay," 



358 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 

(a liquid, acording to his own pun), and fell a 
martyr, in all likelihood, to what in the first 
instance was pure mauvaise honte* Nothing 
could overcome this propensity to low society 
and sotting, but the having something to do 
which required his whole attention and faculties ; 
and then he shut himself up for weeks together 
in his chambers, or at the University, to collate 
old manuscripts, or edite a Greek tragedy, or 
expose a grave pedant, without seeing a single 
boon companion, or touching a glass of wine. 
I saw him once at the London Institution with 
a large patch of coarse brown paper on his nose, 
the skirts of his rusty black coat hung with 
cobwebs, and talking in a tone of suavity, 
approaching to condescension, to one of the 
managers. It is a pity that men should so lose 
themselves from a certain awkwardness and 
rusticity at the outset. But did not Sheridan 
make the same melancholy ending, and run the 
same fatal career, though in a higher and more 
brilliant circle? He did ; and though not from 
exactly the same cause (for no one could accuse 
Sheridan's purple nose and flashing eye of a 
bashfulness — " modest as morning when she 
coldly eyes the youthful Phoebus !") — yet it was 
perhaps from one nearly allied to it, namely, 
the want of that noble independence and confi- 
dence in its own resources which should distin- 
guish genius, and the dangerous ambition to 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 359 



get sponsors and vouchers for it in persons of 
rank and fashion. The affectation of the society 
of lords is as mean and low-minded as the love 
of that of coblers and tapsters. It is that cob- 
lers and tapsters may admire, that we wish to 
be seen in the company of their betters. The 
tone of literary patronage is better than it was 
a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago. 
What dramatic author would think now of 
getting a lady of quality to take a box at the 
first night of a play to prevent its being 
damned by the pit ? Do we not read the 
account of Parson Adams taking his ale in 
Squire Booby's kitchen with mingled incredu- 
lity and shame ? At present literature has, to 
a considerable degree, found its level, and is 
hardly in danger, " deprived of its natural 
patrons and protectors, the great and noble, of 
being trodden in the mire, and trampled under 
the hoofs of a swinish multitude" — though it 
can never again hope to be, what learning once 
was in the persons of the priesthood, the lord 
and sovereign of principalities and powers. 
Fool that it was ever to forego its privileges, 
and loosen the strong hold it had on opinion in 
bigotry and superstition ! 

I remember hearing a lady of great sense and 
acuteness speak of it as a painful consequence 
of the natural shyness of scholars, that from the 
want of a certain address, or an acquaintance 



360 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



with the common forms of society, they despair 
of making themselves agreeable to women of 
education and a certain rank in life, and throw 
away their fine sentiments and romantic tender- 
ness on chambermaids and mantua-makers. 
Not daring to hope for success where it would 
be most desirable, yet anxious to realise in some 
way the dream of books and of their youth, 
they are willing to accept a return of affection 
which they count upon as a tribute of gratitude 
in those of lower circumstances (as if gratitude 
were ever bought by interest), and take up with 
the first Dulcinea del Toboso that they meet 
with, when, would they only try the experi- 
ment, they might do much better. Perhaps so : 
but there is here also a mixture of pride as well 
as modesty. The scholar is not only apprehen- 
sive of not meeting with a return of fondness 
where it might be most advantageous to him ; 
but he is afraid of subjecting his self-love to the 
mortification of a repulse, and to the reproach 
of aiming at a prize far beyond his deserts. 
Besides, living (as he does) in an ideal world, 
he has it in his option to clothe his Goddess 
(be she who or what she may), with all the 
perfections his heart doats on ; and he works up 
a dowdy of this ambiguous description d son 
gre, as an artist does a piece of dull clay, 
or the poet the sketch of some unrivalled he- 
roine The contrast is also the greater (and 



THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 361 



not the less gratifying as being his own dis- 
covery) between his favourite figure and the 
back-ground of her original circumstances ; 
and he likes her the better, inasmuch as, like 
himself, she owes all to her own merit — and his 
notice ! 

Possibly, the best cure for this false modesty, 
and for the uneasiness and extravagancies it 
occasions, would be, for the retired and ab- 
stracted student to consider that he properly 
belongs to another sphere of action, remote 
from the scenes of ordinary life, and may plead 
the excuse of ignorance, and the privilege 
granted to strangers and to those who do not 
speak the same language. If any one is travel- 
ling in a foreign diligence, he is not expected 
to shine nor to put himself forward, nor need he 
be out of countenance because he cannot : he has 
only to conform as well as he can to his new 
and temporary situation, and to study common 
propriety and simplicity of manners. Every 
thing has its own limits, a little centre of its 
own, round which it moves; so that our true 
wisdom lies in keeping to our own walk in life, 
however humble or obscure, and being satisfied 
if we can succeed in it. The best of us can do 
no more, and we shall only become ridiculous 
or unhappy by attempting it. We are ashamed, 
because we are at a loss in things to which we 
have no pretensions, and try to remedy our mis- 



362 THE SHYNESS OF SCHOLARS. 



takes by committing greater. An overweening 
vanity or self-opinion is, in truth, often at the 
bottom of this weakness ; and we shall be most 
likely to conquer the one by eradicating the 
other, or restricting it within due and moderate 
bounds. 



ESSAY XVIII. 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



" Search then the ruling passion : there alone 
The wild are constant, and the cunning known, 
The fool consistent, and the false sincere : 
This clue once found unravels all the rest, 
The prospect clears, and Wharton stands confest." 

Pope. 

I am one of those who do not think that man- 
kind are exactly governed by reason or a cool 
calculation of consequences. I rather believe 
that habit, imagination, sense, passion, preju- 
dice, words, make a strong and frequent diver- 
sion from the right line of prudence and wis- 
dom. I have been told, however, that these are 
merely the irregularities and exceptions, and 
that reason forms the rule or basis ; that the 
understanding, instead of being the sport of the 
capricious and arbitrary decisions of the will, 
generally dictates the line of conduct it is to 
pursue, and that self-interest or the main chance 
is the unvarying load-star of our affections or 



364 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



the chief ingredient in all our motives, that 
thrown in as ballast gives steadiness and direc- 
tion to our voyage through life. I will not take 
upon me to give a verdict in this cause as judge ; 
but I will try to plead one side of it as an advo- 
cate, perhaps a biassed and feeble one. 

As the passions are said to be subject to the 
controul of reason, and as reason is resolved (in 
the present case) into an attention to our own 
interest or a practical sense of the value of 
money, it will not be amiss to inquire how much 
of this principle itself is founded in a rational 
estimate of things or is calculated for the end it 
proposes, or how much of it will turn out (when 
analysed) to be mere madness and folly, or a 
mixture, like all the rest, of obstinacy, whim, 
fancy, vanity, ill-nature, and so forth, or a nomi- 
nal pursuit of good. This passion or an inordi- 
nate love of wealth shews itself, when it is 
strong, equally in two opposite ways, in saving 
or in spending, in avarice (or stinginess) and in 
extravagance. To examine each in their order. 
That lowest and most familiar form of covetous* 
ness, commonly called stinginess, is at present (it 
must be owned) greatly on the wane in civilised 
society; it has been driven out of fashion either 
by ridicule and good sense, or by the spread of 
luxury, or by supplying the mind with other 
sources of interest, besides those which relate 
to the bare means of subsistence, so that it may 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



365 



almost be considered as a vice or absurdity 
struck off the list as a set off' to some that in 
the change of manners and the progress of dis- 
sipation have been brought upon the stage. It 
is not, however, so entirely banished from the 
world, but that examples of it may be found to 
our purpose. It seems to have taken refuge in 
the petty provincial towns, or in old baronial 
castles in the north of Scotland, where it is still 
triumphant. To go into this subject some- 
what in detail. What is more common in these 
places than to stint the servants in their 
wages, to allowance them in the merest neces- 
saries, never to indulge them with a morsel 
of savoury food, and to lock up everything 
from them as if they were thieves or common 
vagabonds broke into the house ? The natural 
consequence is that the mistresses live in con- 
tinual hot water with their servants, keep watch 
and ward over them — the pantry being in a state 
of siege — grudge them every mouthful, every 
appearance of comfort or moment of leisure, and 
torment their own souls every minute of their 
lives about what if left wholly to itself would 
not make a difference of five shillings at the 
year's end. There are families so notorious for 
this kind of surveillance and meanness, that no 
servant will go to live with them ; for to clench 
the matter, they are obliged to stay if they do, 
as under these amiable establishments, and to 



366 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



provide against an evasion of their signal ad- 
vantages, domestics are never hired but by 
the half-year. Cases have been known where 
servants have taken a pleasant revenge on their 
masters and mistresses without intending it: 
where the example of sordid saving and mean- 
ness having taken possession of those who in 
the first instance were victims to it, they have 
conscientiously applied it to the benefit of all 
parties, and scarcely suffered a thing to enter 
the house for the whole six months they stayed 
in it. To pass over, however, those cases which 
may plead poverty as their excuse, what shall 
we say to a lady of fortune (the sister of an old- 
fashioned Scotch laird) allowing the fruit to 
rot in the gardens and hot-houses of a fine old 
mansion in large quantities sooner than let any 
of it be given away in presents to the neigh- 
bours, and when peremptorily ordered by the 
master of the house to send a basket-full every 
morning to a sick friend, purchasing a small 
pottle for the purpose, and satisfying her mind 
(an intelligent and well-informed one) with this 
miserable subterfuge? Nay farther, the same 
person, whenever they had green peas or other 
rarities served up at table, could hardly be pre- 
vailed on to help the guests to them, but if pos- 
sible sent them away, though no other usecould 
now be made of them, and she would never see 
them again ! Is there common sense in this ; 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



367 



or is it not more like madness ? But is it not, 
at the same time, human nature ? Let us 
stop to explain a little. In my view, the real 
motive of action in this and other similar cases 
of grasping penuriousness has no more reference 
to self-love (properly so called) than artificial 
fruit and flowers have to natural ones. A certain 
form or outside appearance of utility may de- 
ceive the mind, but the natural, pulpy, whole- 
some, nutritious substance, the principle of vital- 
ity, is gone. To this callous, frigid habit of 
mind the real uses of things harden and crystal- 
lise ; the pith and marrow are extracted out of 
them, leaving nothing but the husk or shell. By 
a regular process, the idea of property is gradu- 
ally abstracted from the advantage it may be of 
even to ourselves ; and to a well- drilled, tho- 
rough-bred Northern house-keeper (such as I 
have spoken of) the fruits or other produce 
of her garden would come at last to be 
things no more to be eaten or enjoyed than 
her jewels or trinkets, which are professedly 
of no use but to be kept as symbols of 
wealth, to be occasionally looked at, and care- 
fully guarded from the approach of any unhal- 
lowed touch. The calculation of consequences 
or of benefit to accrue to any living person is so 
far from being the main-spring in this mechan- 
ical operation that it is never once thought of, 
or regarded with peevishness and impatience as 



368 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



an unwelcome intruder, because it must natu- 
rally divert the mind from the warped and false 
bias it has taken. The feeling of property is 
here removed from the sphere of practice 
to a chimerical and fictitious one. In the case 
of not sending the fruit out of the house, there 
might be some lurking idea of its being possibly 
wanted at home, that it might be sent to some 
one else, or made up into conserves : but when 
different articles of food are actually placed on 
the table, to hang back from using or offering 
them to others, is a deliberate infatuation. They 
must be destroyed, they could not appear again ; 
and yet this person's heart failed her and shrunk 
back from the only opportunity of making the 
proper use of them with a petty, sensitive ap- 
prehension, as if it were a kind of sacrilege 
done to a cherished and favourite object. The 
impulse to save was become by indulgence a 
sort of desperate propensity and forlorn hope, 
no longer the understood means, but the mis- 
taken end: habit had completely superseded the 
exercise and controul of reason, and the rage of 
making the most of everything by making no 
use of it at all resisted to the last moment the 
shocking project of feasting on a defenceless dish 
of green peas (that would fetch so much in the 
market) as an outrage against the Goddess of 
Stinginess and torture to the soul of Thrift ! The 
principle of economy is inverted ; and in order 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



369 



to avoid the possibility of wasting anything, the 
way with such philosophers and housewives is 
to abstain from touching it altogether. Is not 
this a common error ? Or are we conscious of 
our motives in such cases ? Or do we not flat- 
ter ourselves by imputing every such act of idle 
folly to the necessity of adopting some sure and 
judicious plan to shun ruin, beggary, and the 
profligate abuse of wealth ? An old maid in 
the same northern school of humanity calling 
upon some young ladies, her neighbours, was so 
alarmed and scandalized at finding the safe open 
in their absence, that she engaged herself to 
drink tea the same afternoon, for the express 
purpose of reading them a lecture on the un- 
heard-of imprudence and impropriety of such 
an example, and was mobbed on her way home 
by the poor servant-girl (who had been made 
the subject of her declamation) in return for 
her uncalled-for interference. She had nothing 
to fear, nothing to lose : her safe was carefully 
locked up. Why then all this flutter, fidgetty 
anxiety, and itch of meddling? Out of pure 
romantic generosity — because the idea of any- 
thing like comfort or liberality to a servant 
shocked her economical and screwed- up preju- 
dices as much as the impugning any article of 
her religious or moral creed could have done. 
The very truisms and literal refinements of this 
passion are then sheer impertinence. The house- 

2b 



370 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



keeper came into the parlour of a "big ha! house, " 
in the same land of cakes and hospitality, to say 
that the workmen had refused to eat their dinner. 
" Why so V* Because there was nothing but 
sowins and sour milk. " Then they must go 
without a dinner/' said the young mistress, de- 
lighted ; " there is nothing else in the house for 
them." Yet the larder at that time groaned 
with cold rounds of beef, hams, pasties, and the 
other plentiful remains of a huge entertainment 
the day before. This was flippancy and ill- 
nature, as well as a wrong notion of self-interest. 
Is it at all wonderful that a decent servant-girl, 
when applied to go to this place, laughed at the 
idea of a service where there was nothing to 
eat ? Yet this attention to the main chance on 
her part, had it come to the lady's knowledge, 
would have been treated as a great piece of in- 
solence. So little conception have such people 
of their own obligations on the claims of others ! 
The clergyman of the parish (prolific in this 
sort of anecdote), a hearty, good sort of man 
enough, but irritable withal, took it into his head 
to fly into a violent passion if ever he found the 
glasses or spoons left out in the kitchen, and he 
always went into the kitchen to look after this 
sort of excitement. He pretended to be mightily 
afraid that the one would be broken (to his irre- 
parable loss) and the other stolen, though there 
was no danger of either : he wanted an excuse 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



371 



to fret and fume about something. On the 
death of his wife he sent for her most intimate 
friend to condole and consult with, and having 
made some necessary arrangements, begged as 
a peculiar favour that she would look into the 
kitchen to see if the glasses and silver spoons 
were in their places. She repressed a smile at 
such a moment out of regard to his feeling*, 
which were serious and acute; but burst into a 
fit of unrestrained laughter as soon as she got 
home. So ridiculous a thing is human nature, 
even to ourselves ! Either our actions are ab- 
surd, or we are absurd in our constant censure 
and exposure of others. I would not from 
choice go into these details, but I might be re- 
quired to fill up a vague outline ; and the exam- 
ples of folly, spite, and meanness are unfortu- 
nately " sown like a thick scurf o'er life !" 

Let us turn the tables and look at the other 
side of this sober, solid, engrossing passion for 
property and its appendages. A man lays out 
a thousand, nay, sometimes several thousand 
pounds in purchasing a fine picture. This is 
thought by the vulgar a very fantastical folly 
and unaccountable waste of money. Why so ? 
No one would give such a sum for a picture, 
unless there were others ready to offer nearly 
the same sum, and who are likely to appreciate 
its value and envy him the distinction. It is 
then a sign of taste, a proof of wealth to pos- 



372 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



sess it ; it is an ornament and a luxury. If the 
same person lays out the same sum of money in 
building or purchasing a fine house, or enriching 
it with costly furniture, no notice is taken. This 
is supposed to be perfectly natural and in order. 
Yet both are equally gratuitous pieces of extra- 
vagance, and the value of the objects is in either 
case equally ideal. It will be asked, " But what 
is the use of the picture V And what, pray, is 
the use of the fine house or costly furniture, un- 
less to be looked at, to be admired, and to dis- 
play the taste and magnificence of the owner ? 
Are not pictures and statues as much furniture 
as gold plate or jasper tables ; or does the cir- 
cumstance of the former having a meaning in 
them and appealing to the imagination as well 
as to the senses, neutralize their virtue and ren- 
der it entirely chimerical and visionary? It is 
true, every one must have a house of some kind, 
furnished somehow, and the superfluous so far 
grows imperceptibly out of the necessary. But 
a fine house, fine furniture, is necessary to no 
man, nor of more value t;ban the plainest, except 
as a matter of taste, of fancy, of luxury, and 
ostentation. Again, no doubt, if a person is in 
the habit of keeping a number of servants, and 
entertaining a succession of fashionable guests, 
he must have more room than he wants for him- 
self, apartments suitably decorated to receive 
them, and ofiices and stables for their horses and 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



373 



retinue. But is all this unavoidably dictated as 
a consequence of his attention to the main chance, 
or is it not sacrificing the latter and making it a 
stalking-horse to his vanity, dissipation, or love 
of society and hospitality ? 

We are at least as fond of spending money as 
of making it. If a man runs through a fortune 
in the way here spoken of, is it out of love to 
himself? Yet, who scruples to run through a 
fortune in this way, or accuses himself of any 
extraordinary disinterestedness or love of others? 
One bed is as much as any one can sleep in, 
one room is as much as he can dine in, and he 
may have another for study or to retire to after 
dinner ; but he can only want more than this for 
the accommodation of his friends or the admi- 
ration of the stranger. At Fonthill Abbey (to 
take an extreme illustration) there was not a 
single room fit to sit, lie, or stand in : the whole 
was cut up into pigeon holes, or spread out into 
long endless galleries. The building this huge, 
ill-assorted pile cost, I believe, nearly a million 
of money ; and if the circumstance was men- 
tioned, it occasioned an expression of surprise 
at the amount of the wealth that had been thus 
squandered ; but if it was said that a hundred 
pounds had been laid out on a highly-finished 
picture, there was the same astonishment ex- 
pressed at its misdirection. The sympathetic 
auditor makes up his mind to the first and 



374 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



greatest outlay, by reflecting that in case of the 
worst the building materials alone will fetch 
something considerable ; or in the very idea of 
stone walk and mortar there is something solid 
and tangible, that repels the charge of frivolous 
levity or fine sentiment. This quaint excrescence 
in architecture, preposterous and ill-constructed 
as it was, occasioned, I suspect, many a heart- 
ache and bitter comparison to the throng of fa- 
shionable visitants ; and I conceive it was the 
very want of comfort and convenience that en- 
hanced this feeling, by magnifying as it were 
from contrast the expence that had been in- 
curred in realising an idle whim. When we 
judge thus perversely and invidiously of the 
employment of wealth by others, I cannot think 
that we are guided in our own choice of means 
to ends by a simple calculation of downright use 
and personal accommodation. The gentleman 
who purchased Fonthill, and was supposed to be 
possessed of wealth enough to purchase half a 
dozen more Fonthills, lived there himself for 
some time in a state of the greatest retirement ; 
rose at six, and read till four ; rode out for an 
hour for the benefit of the air, and dined abste- 
miously for the sake of his health. I could do 
all this myself. What then became of the rest 
of his fortune ? It was lying in the funds or 
embarked in business to make it yet greater : 
that he might still rise at six and read till four, 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



375 



&c. It was of no other earthly use to him ; for 
he did not wish to make a figure in the world, 
or to throw it away on studs of horses, or equip- 
ages, entertainments, gaming, electioneering, 
subscriptions to charitable institutions, mis- 
tresses, or any of the usual fashionable modes 
of squandering wealth for the amusement and 
wonder of others and our own fancied enjoy- 
ment. Mr Farquhar did not probably lay out 
five hundred a-year on himself : yet it cost Mr 
Beckford, who also led a life of perfect seclusion, 
twenty thousand a-year to defray the expenses 
of his table and of his household establishment. 
When I find that such and so various are the 
tastes of men, I am a little puzzled to know 
what is meant by self-interest, of which some 
persons talk so fluently, as if it was a jack-in- 
a-box, which they could take out and show you, 
and which they tell you is the object that all 
men equally aim at. If money, is it for its 
own sake, or the sake of other things ? Is it to 
hoard it, or to spend it on ourselves or others ? 
In all these points, we find the utmost diversity 
and contradiction, both of feeling and practice. 
Certainly he who puts his money into a strong 
box, and he who puts it into a dice-box, must 
be allowed to have a very different idea of the 
main chance. If by this phrase he understood 
a principle of self-preservation, I grant that 
while we live we must not starve, and that 



376 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



necessity has no law. Beyond this point, all 
seems nearly left to chance or whim, and so far 
are all the world from being agreed in their de- 
finition of this redoubtable term, that one-half 
of them may be said to think and act in diame- 
trical opposition to the other. 

Avarice is the miser's dream, as fame is the 
poet's. A calculation of physical profit or loss 
is almost as much out of the question in the 
one case as in the other. The one has set his 
mind on gold, the other on praise, as the sum- 
mum bonum or object of his bigoted idolatry and 
daily contemplation, not for any private and 
sinister ends. It is the immediate pursuit, not 
the remote or reflex consequence that gives wings 
to the passion. There is indeed a reference to 
self in either case, that fixes and concentrates 
it, but not a gross or sordid one. Is not the 
desire to accumulate and leave a vast estate be- 
hind us, equally romantic with the desire to 
leave a posthumous name behind us ? Is not 
the desire of distinction, of something to be 
known and remembered by, the paramount con- 
sideration ? And are not the privations we 
undergo, the sacrifices and exertions we make, 
for either object nearly akin ? A child makes 
a huge snow-bail to show his skill and perse- 
verance, and as something to wonder at, not that 
he can swallow it as an ice, or warm his hands 
at it, and though the next day's sun will dissolve 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



377 



it ; and the man accumulates a pile of wealth 
for the same reason principally, or to find em- 
ployment for his time, his imagination, and his 
will. I deny that to watch and superintend the 
return of millions can be of any other use to 
him than to watch the returns of the heavenly 
bodies, or to calculate their distances, or to con- 
template eternity, or infinity, or the sea, or the 
dome of St Peter's, or any other object that ex- 
cites curiosity and interest from its magnitude 
and importance. Do we not look at the most 
barren mountain with thrilling awe and wonder ? 
And is it strange that we should gaze at a moun- 
tain, of gold with satisfaction, when we can be- 
sides say, " This is ours, with all the power that 
belongs to it ?" Every passion, however plod- 
ding or prosaic, has its poetical side. A miser 
is the true alchemist, the magician in his cell, 
who overlooks a mighty experiment, who sees 
dazzling visions, and who wields the will of 
others at his nod, but to whom all other hopes 
and pleasures are dead, and who is cut off from 
all connexion with his kind. He lives in a 
splendid hallucination, a waking trance, and so 
far it is well : but if he thinks he has any other 
need or use for all this endless store (any more 
than to swill the ocean), he deceives himself, 
and is no conjuror after all. He goes on, how- 
ever, mechanically adding to his stock, and 
fancying that great riches is great gain, that 
every particle that swells the heap is something 



378 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



in reserve against the evil day, and a defence 
against that poverty which he dreads more the 
farther he is removed from it, as the more giddy 
the height to which we have attained, the more 
frightful does the gulf yawn below — so easily 
does habit get the mastery of reason, and so 
nearly is passion allied to madness! — But he 
is laying up for his heirs and successors : — in 
toiling for them, and sacrificing himself, is he 
properly attending to the main chance? 

This is the turn the love of money takes in 
cautious, dry, recluse, and speculative minds. 
If it were the pure and abstract love of money, 
it could take no other turn but this. But in 
a different class of characters, the sociable, the 
vain, and imaginative, it takes just the contrary 
one, viz. to expense, extravagance, and ostenta- 
tion. It here loves to display itself in every 
fantastic shape and with every reflected lustre ; 
in houses, in equipage, in dress, in a retinue 
of friends and dependents, in horses, in hounds 
— to glitter in the eye of fashion, to be echoed 
by the roar of folly, and buoyed up for a while 
like a bubble on the surface of vanity, to sink 
all at once and irrecoverably into an abyss of 
ruin and bankruptcy. Does it foresee this 
result? Does it care for it? What, then, be- 
comes of the calculating principle, that can 
neither be hoodwinked nor bribed from its duty ? 
Does it do nothing for us in this critical emer- 
gency ? It is blind, deaf, and insensible to all 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



379 



but the noise, confusion, and glare of objects 
by which it is fascinated and lulled into a fatal 
repose! One man ruins himself by the vanity 
of associating with lords, another by his love of 
low company ; one by his fondness for building, 
another by his rage for keeping open house, 
and private theatricals ; one by philosophical 
experiments, another by embarking in every 
ticklish and fantastical speculation that is pro- 
posed to him ; one throws away an estate on a 
law-suit, another on a die, a third on a horse- 
race, a fourth on virtu, a fifth on a drab, a sixth 
on a contested election, &c. There is no dearth 
of instances to fill the page or complete the 
group of profound calculators, of inflexible mar- 
tyrs to the main chance. Let any of these discreet 
and well-advised persons have the veil torn from 
their darling follies by experience, and be gifted 
with a double share of wisdom and a second 
fortune to dispose of, and each of them, so far 
from being warned by experience or disaster, 
will only be the more resolutely bent to assert 
the independence of his choice and throw it away 
the self-same road the other went before, — on his 
vanity in associating with lords, on his love of 
low company, on his fondness for building, on 
his rage for keeping open house or private thea- 
tricals, on philosophical experiments, on fantastic 
speculations, on a law-suit, on a dice-box, on a 
favourite horse, on a picture, on a mistress, or 



380 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



election contest, and 60 on through the whole 
of the chapter of accidents and cross-purposes. 
There is an admirable description of this sort 
of infatuation with folly and ruin in Madame 
D'Arblay's account of Harrel in ' Cecilia and 
though the picture is highly wrought and car- 
ried to the utmost length, yet I maintain that the 
principle is common. I myself have known 
more than one individual in the same predica- 
ment ; and therefore cannot think that the 
deviations from the line of strict prudence and 
wisdom are so rare or trifling as the theory I 
am opposing represents them, or I must have 
been singularly unfortunate in my acquaintance. 
Out of a score of persons of this class I could 
mention several that have ruined their fortunes 
out of mere freak; others that are in a state of 
dotage and imbecility, for fear of being robbed 
of all they are worth. The rest care nothing 
about the matter. So that this boasted and 
unfailing attention to the main chance resolves 
itself, when strong, into mad profusion or griping 
penury ; or, if weak, is null and yields to other 
motives. Such is the conclusion to which my 
observation of life has led me : if I am quite 
wrong, it is hard that in a world abounding in 
such characters I should not have met with a 
single practical philosopher.* 

* Mr Bentham proposes to new - model the penal code on 
the principle of a cool and systematic calculation of con- 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



381 



A girl in a country town resolves never to 
marry any one under a duke or a lord. Good. 
This may be very well as an ebullition of spleen 
or vanity; but is there much common sense or 
regard to her own satisfaction in it ? Were 
there any likelihood of her succeeding in her 
resolution, she would not make it ; for it is the 
very distinction to be attained that piques her 
ambition, and leads her to gratify her conceit of 
herself by affecting to look down on any lower 
matches. Let her suffer ever so much mortifica- 
tion or chagrin in the prosecution of her scheme, 
it only confirms her the more in it : the spirit 
of contradiction and the shame of owning herself 



sequences. Yet of all philosophers, the candidates for 
Panopticons and Penitentiaries are the most shortsighted 
and refractory. Punishment has scarcely any effect upon 
them. Thieves steal under the scaffold; and if a person's 
previous feelings and habits do not prevent his running 
the risk of the gallows, be assured that the fear of conse- 
quences, or his having already escaped it, with all the 
good resolutions he may have made on the occasion, will 
not prevent his exposing himself to it a second time. It 
is true, most people have a natural aversion to being 
hanged. The perseverance of culprits in their evil courses 
seems a fatality, which is strengthened by the prospect of 
what is to follow. Mr Bentham argues that all men act 
from calculation; "even madmen reason." So far it may 
be true that the world is not unlike a great Bedlam, or 
answers to the title of an old play — "A mad world, my 
masters." 



382 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



defeated, increase with every new disappointment 
and every year of painful probation. At least this 
is the case while she chooses to think there is any 
chance left. But what, after all, is this haughty 
and ridiculous pretension founded on? Is it owing 
to a more commanding view and a firmer grasp 
of consequences, or of her own interest? No such 
thing : she is as much captivated by the fancied 
sound of u My Lady," and dazzled by the image 
of a coronet-coach, as the girl who marries a 
footman is smit with his broad shoulders, laced 
coat, and rosy cheeks. " But why must I be 
always in extremes? Few misses make vows 
of celibacy or marry their footmen." Take then 
the broad question : — Do they generally marry 
from the convictions of the understanding, or 
make the choice that is most likely to ensure 
their future happiness, or that they themselves 
approve afterwards ? I think the answer must 
be in the negative ; and yet love and marriage 
are among the weightiest and most serious con- 
cerns of life. Mutual regard, good temper, good 
sense, good character, or a conformity of tastes 
and dispositions, have notoriously and lamentably 
little to say in it. On the contrary, it is most 
frequently those things that pique and provoke 
opposition, instead of those which promise con- 
cord and sympathy, that decide the choice and 
inflame the will by the love of conquest, or of 
overcoming difficulty. Or it is a complexion 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



383 



or a fine set of teeth, or air, or dress, or a fine 
person, or false calves, or affected consequence, 
or a reputation for gallantry, or a flow of spirits, 
or a flow of words, or forward coquetry, or 
assumed indifference, — something that appeals 
to the senses, the fancy, or to our pride, and de- 
termines us to throw away our happiness for life. 
Neither, then, in this case, on which so much 
depends, are the main chance and our real interest 
by any means the same thing. 

" Now all ye ladies of fair Scotland, 
And ladies of England that happy would prove, 
Marry never for houses, nor marry for land, 
Nor marry for nothing but only love. ,; * 

Old Ballad. 

Or take the passion of love where it has other 
objects and consequences in view. Is reason 
any match for the poison of this passion, where 
it has been once imbibed ? I might just as well 
be told that reason is a cure for madness or the 



* "Have I not seen a household where love was 
not ?" says the author of the * Betrothed ;' " where, 
although there was worth and good will, and enough of 
the means of life, all was imbittered by regrets, which 
were not only vain, but criminal ?" — " I would take the 
Ghost's word for a thousand pound," or in preference to 
that of any man living, though I was told, in the street* 
of Edinburgh, that Dr Jamieson, the author of the 1 Dic- 
tionary was quite as great a man I 



384 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



bite of a venomous serpent. Are not health, for- 
tune, friends, character, peace of mind, every- 
thing sacrificed to its idlest impulse ? Are the 
instances rare, or are they not common and 
tragical ? The main chance does not serve the 
turn here. Does the prospect of certain ruin 
break the fascination to its frail victim, or does 
it not render the conquest more easy and secure 
that the seducer has already triumphed over and 
deserted a hundred other victims ? A man a 
bonnes fortunes is the most irresistible personage, 
in the lists of gallantry. Take drunkenness 
again, that vice which till within these few 
years (and even still) was fatal to the health, the 
constitution, the fortunes of so many thousands, 
and the peace of so many families in Great 
Britain. I would ask what remonstrance of 
friends, what lessons of experience, what resolu- 
tions of amendment, what certainty of remorse 
and suffering, however exquisite, would deter 
the confirmed sot (where the passion for this 
kind of excitement had once become habitual 
and the immediate want of it was felt) from in- 
dulging his propensity and taking his full 
swing, notwithstanding the severe and immi- 
nent punishment to follow upon his excess ? 
The consequence of not abstaining from his 
favourite beverage is not doubtful and dis- 
tant (a thing in the clouds), but close at his side, 
staring him in the face, and felt perhaps in all 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 385 

its aggravations that very morning, yet the re- 
collection of this and of the next day's dawn is 
of no avail against the momentary craving and 
headlong impulse given by the first application 
of the glass to his lips. The present temptation 
is indeed heightened by the threatened alterna- 
tive. I know this as a rule, that the stronger 
the repentance, the surer the relapse and the 
more hopeless the cure ! The being engrossed 
by the present moment, by the present feeling, 
whatever it be, whether of pleasure or pain, is 
the evident cause of both. Few instances have 
been known of a final reformation on this head 
Yet it is a clear case ; and reason, if it were 
that giant that it is represented in anything 
but ledgers and books of accounts, would put 
down the abuse in an instant. It is true, this 
infirmity is more particularly chargeable to the 
English and to other northern nations, and 
there has been a considerable improvement 
among us of late years ; but I suspect it is owing 
to a change of manners and to the opening 
of new sources of amusement (without the aid 
of ardent spirits flung in to relieve the depres- 
sion of our animal spirits) more than to the 
excellent treatises which have been written 
against the use of fermented liquors, or to an 
ncreasing tender regard to our own comfort, 
health, and happiness, in the breast of indivi- 
duals. We still find plenty of ways of torment- 

2c 



386 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



ing ourselves and sporting with the feelings 
of others ! I will say nothing of a passion for 
gaming here, as too obvious an illustration of 
what I mean. It is more rare, and hardly to be 
looked on as epidemic with us. But few that 
have dabbled in this vice have not become 
deeply involved, and few (or none) that have 
done so have ever retraced their steps or re- 
turned to sober calculations of the main chance. 
The majority, it is true, are not gamesters ; bat 
where the passion does exist, it completely 
tyrannizes over and stifles the voice of common 
sense, reason, and humanity. How many 
victims has the point of honour ! I will not 
pretend that, as matters stand, it may not be 
necessary to fight a duel, under certain circum- 
stances and on certain provocations, even in a pru- 
dential point of view (though this again proves 
how little the maxims and practices of the 
world are regulated by a mere consideration of 
personal safety and welfare) ; but I do say that 
the rashness with which this responsibility is 
often incurred, and the even seeking for trifling 
causes of quarrel, shows anything but a con- 
sistent regard to self-interest as a general prin- 
ciple of action, or rather betrays a total reck- 
lessness of consequences, when opposed to pique, 
petulance, or passion. 

Before I proceed to answer a principal objec- 
tion (and indeed a staggering one at first sight), 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



387 



I will mention here, that I think it strongly 
confirms my view of human nature that men 
form their opinions much more from prejudice 
than reason. The proof that they do is that they 
form such opposite ones, when the abstract pre- 
mises and independent evidence are the same. 
How few Calvinists become Lutherans ! How 
few Papists Protestants ! How few Tories 
Whigs ! * Each shuts his eyes equally to facts 
or arguments, and persists in the view of the 
subject that custom, pride, and obstinacy dic- 
tate. Interest is no more regarded than rea- 
son ; for it is often at the risk both of life and 
fortune that these opinions have been main- 
tained, and it is uniformly when parties have 
run highest, and the strife has been deadliest, 
that people have been most forward to stake 
their existence and everything belonging to them 
on some unintelligible dogma or article of 
an old-fashioned creed. Half the wars and 
fightings, martyrdoms, persecutions, feuds, an- 
tipathies, heart-burnings in the world have been 
about some distinction, " some trick not worth 
an egg" — so ready are mankind to sacrifice 
their all to a mere name ! It may be urged, 



* Certes, more Whigs become Tories. This may also 
he accounted for satisfactorily, though not very ra- 
tionally. 



388 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



that the good of our souls, or our welfare in 
a future state of being, is a rational and well- 
grounded motive for these religious extrava- 
gances. And this is true, so far as religious 
zeal falls in with men's passions or the spirit of 
the times. A bigot was formerly ready to cut 
his neighbour's throat to go to heaven, but not 
so ready to reform his own life, or give up a 
single vice or gratification, notwithstanding all 
the pains and penalties denounced upon it, and 
of which his faith in Holy Church did not suffer 
him to doubt a moment ! 

But it is contended here, that in matters not 
of doctrinal speculation, but of private life and 
domestic policy, every one consults and under- 
stands his own interest; that, whatever other 
hobbies he may have, he minds this as the main 
object, and contrives to make both ends meet, 
in spite of seeming inattention and real difficul- 
ties. " If we look around us," says a shrewd, 
hard-headed Scotchman, "and take examples 
from the neighbourhood in which we live,we shall 
find that, allowing for occasional exceptions, 
diversities, and singularities, the main chance 
is still stuck to with rigid and unabating per- 
tinacity—the accounts are wound up, and every- 
thing is right at the year's end, whatever freaks 
or fancies may have intervened in the course of 
it. The business of life goes on (which is the 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



389 



principal thing), and every man's house stands 
on its own bottom. This is the case in Nichol- 
son street, in the next street to it, and in the 
next street to that, and in the whole of Edin- 
burgh — Scotland and England to boot." This, 
I allow, is a home thrust, and I must parry it 
how I can. It is a kind of heavy broad-wheeled 
waggon of an objection, that makes a formida- 
ble awkward appearance, and takes up so much 
of the road, that I shall have a lucky escape 
if I can dash by it in my light gig without 
being upset or crushed to atoms. The persons 
who in the present instance have the charge 
of it in its progress through the streets of 
Edinburgh are, a constitutional lawyer, a po- 
litical economist, an opposition editor, and an 
ex -officio surveyor of the customs — fearful odds 
against one poor metaphysician ! Their machine 
of human life, I confess, puts me a little in mind 
of those square-looking caravans one sometimes 
meets on the road, in which they transport wild 
beasts from place to place; and dull, heavy, 
safe, and flat as they look, the inmates continue 
their old habits ; the monkeys play their tricks, 
and the panthers lick their jaws for human 
blood, though cramped and confined in their ex- 
cursions. So the vices and follies, when they 
cannot break loose, do their worst inside this 
formal conveyance, the main chance. As this 



390 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



ovation is intended to pass up High street for 
the honour of the Scottish capital, I should 
wish it to stop at the shop door of Mr Bartho- 
line Saddletree, to see if he is at home, or in 
the courts. Also to inquire whether the suit of 
Peter Peebles is yet ended ; and to take the 
opinion of counsel how many of the Highland 
lairds, or Scottish noblemen and gentlemen, 
that were out in the Fifteen and the Forty-five, 
periled their lives and fortunes in the " good 
cause" from an eye to the main chance. The 
Baron of Bradwardine would have scorned such 
a suggestion ; nay, it would have been below 
Balmawhapple or even Killancureit. But u the 
age of chivalry is gone, and that of sophists, 
economists, and calculators, has succeeded/' I 
should say that the risk, the secrecy, the possi- 
bility of the leaders having their heads stuck on 
Temple Bar and their estates confiscated were 
among the foremost causes that inflamed their 
zeal and stirred their blood to the enterprise. 
Hardship, danger, exile, death, these words 
smack of honour more than the main chance. 
The modern Scotch may be loyal on this 
thriving principle : their ancestors found their 
loyalty a very losing concern, yet they perse- 
vered in it till, and long after, it became a 
desperate cause. But patriotism and loyalty 
(true or false) are important and powerful prin- 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



391 



ciples in human affairs, though not always 
selfish and calculating. Honour is one great 
standard-bearer and puissant leader in the 
struggle of human life ; and less than honour 
(a nickname or a bug-bear) is enough to set the 
multitude together by the ears, whether in civil, 
religious, or private brawls. But to return to 
our Edinburgh shop-keepers, those practical 
models of wisdom, and authentic epitomes of 
human nature. Say that by their " canny ways 
and pawy looks" they keep their names out of 
the * Gazette/ yet still care (not the less perhaps) 
mounts behind their counters, and sits in their 
back-shops. A tradesman is not a bankrupt at 
the year's end. But what does it signify, if he 
is hen-pecked in the meantime, or quarrels with 
his wife, or beats his apprentices, or has married 
a woman twice as old as himself for her money, 
or has been jilted by his maid, or fuddles himself 
every night, or is laying in an apoplexy by over- 
eating himself, or is believed by nobody, or is a 
furious Whig or Tory, or a knave, or a fool, or 
one envious of the success of his neighbours, 
or dissatisfied with his own, or surly, or eaten 
up with indolence and procrastination, never easy 
but bashful and awkward in company (though 
with a vast desire to shine), or has some personal 
defect or weak side on which the Devil is sure to 
assail him, and the venting his spleen and irri- 



392 



THE MAIN CHANCE, 



tability on which, through some loop-hole or 
other, makes the real business and torment of 
his life — that of his shop may go on as it pleases. 
Such is the perfection of reason and the triumph 
of the sovereign good, where there are no strong 
passions to disturb, or no great vices to sully it ! 
The humours collect, the will will have head, 
the petty passions ferment, and we start some 
grievance or other, and hunt it down every hour 
in the day, or the machine of still-life could not 
go on even in North Britain. But were I to 
grant the full force and extent of the objection, 
I should still say that it does not bear upon my 
view of the subject or general assertion, that 
reason is an unequal match for passion. Busi- 
ness is a kind of gaoler or task-master, that 
keeps its vassals in good order while they are 
under its eye, as the slave or culprit performs 
his task with the whip hanging over him, and 
punishment immediately to follow neglect ; but 
the question is, what he would do with his reco- 
vered freedom, or what course the mind will for 
the most part pursue, when in the range of its 
general conduct it has its choice to make between 
a distant, doubtful, sober, rational good (or 
average state of being), and some one object of 
comparatively little value, that strikes the senses, 
flatters our pride, gives scope to the imagination, 
and has all the strength of passion and inclina- 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



393 



tion on its side. The main chance then is a con- 
siderable exception, but not a fair one or a case 
in point, since it falls under a different head and 
line of argument. 

The fault of reason in general (which takes 
in the whole instead of parts) is, that its 
objects, though of the utmost extent and im- 
portance, are not defined and tangible. This 
fault cannot be found with the pursuit of 
trade and commerce. It is not a mere dry, 
abstract, undefined, speculative, however steady 
and well-founded conviction of the understand- 
ing. It has other levers and pullies to enforce 
it, besides those of reason and reflection ; as 
follows : — 

1. The value of money is positive or specific. 
The interest in it is a sort of mathematical in- 
terest, reducible to number and quantity. Ten 
is always more than one ; a part is never greater 
than the whole ; the good we seek or attain in 
this way has a technical denomination ; and I 
do not deny that in matters of strict calculation, 
the principle of calculation will naturally bear 
great sway. The returns of profit and loss are 
regular and mechanical, and the operations of 
business or the main chance are so too. But 
commonly speaking, we judge by the degree of 
excitement, not by the ultimate quantity. Thus 
we prefer a draught of nectar to the recovery of 



394 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



our health, and are on most occasions ready to 
exclaim, — 

" An ounce of sweet is worth a pound of sour/' 

Yet there is a point at which self-will and 
humour stop. A man will take brandy, which 
is a kind of slow poison, but he will not take 
actual poison knowing it to be such, however 
slow the operation or bewitching the taste ; 
because here the effect is absolutely fixed and 
certain, not variable, nor in the power of the 
imagination to elude or trifle with it. I see no 
courage in battle, but in going on what is called 
the forlorn hope. 

2. Business is also an affair of habit : it calls 
for incessant and daily application ; and what 
was at first a matter of necessity to supply our 
wants, becomes often a matter of necessity to 
employ our time. The man of business wants 
work for his head ; the labourer and mechanic 
for his hands ; so that the love of action, of 
difficulty and competition, the stimulus of suc- 
cess or failure is perhaps as strong an ingredient 
in men's ordinary pursuits as the love of gain. 
We find persons pursuing science or any hobby- 
hor steal whim or handicraft that they have taken 
a fancy to, or persevering in a losing concern 
with just the same ardour and obstinacy. As to 
the choice of a pursuit in life, a man may not be 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



395 



forward to engage in business, but being once 
in, does not like to turn back amidst the pity of 
friends and the derision of enemies. How dif- 
ficult is it to prevent those who have a turn for 
any art or science from going into these pursuits, 
how r ever unprofitable ! Nay, how difficult is it 
often to prevent those who have no turn that 
way, but prefer starving to a certain income ! 
If there is one in a family brighter than the rest, 
he is immediately designed for one of the learned 
professions. Really, the dull and plodding peo- 
ple of the world have not much reason to boast 
of their superior wisdom or numbers : they are 
in an involuntary majority ! 

3. The value of money is an exchangeable 
value ; that is, this pursuit is available towards 
and convertible into a great many others. A 
person is in want of money, and mortgages an 
estate to throw it away upon a round of enter- 
tainments and company. The passion or motive 
here is not a hankering after money, but society, 
and the individual will ruin himself for this 
object. Another, who has the same passion for 
show, and a certain style of living, tries to gain 
a fortune in trade to indulge it, and only goes 
to work in a more round-about way. I remem- 
ber a story of a common mechanic at Man- 
chester, who laid out the hard-earned savings of 
the week in hiring a horse and livery-servant 
to ride behind him to Stockport every Suriday, 



396 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



and to dine there at an ordinary, like a gentle- 
man. The pains bestowed upon the main 
chance here was only a cover for another object, 
which exercised a ridiculous predominance over 
his mind. Money will purchase a horse, a 
house, a picture, leisure, dissipation, or whatever 
the individual has a fancy for, that is to be pur- 
chased ; but it does not follow that he is fond of 
all these, or of whatever will promote his real 
interest, because he is fond of money, but that 
he has a passion for some one of these objects, 
to which he would probably sacrifice all the 
rest, and his own peace and happiness into the 
bargain. 

4. The main chance is an instrument of va- 
rious passions, but is directly opposed to none 
of them, with the single exception of indolence, 
or the vis inertice, which of itself is seldom 
strong enough to master it, without the aid of 
some other incitement. A barrister sticks to his 
duty, as long as he has only his love of ease to 
conquer ; but he flings up his briefs or neglects 
them, if he thinks he can make a figure in Par- 
liament. A servant-girl stays in her place and 
does her work, though perhaps lazy and slat- 
ternly, because no immediate temptation occurs 
strong enough to interfere with the necessity of 
gaining her bread, but she goes away with a 
bastard-child, because here passion and desire 
come into play, though the consequence is, that 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



397 



she loses not only her place, but her character 
and every prospect in life. No one, therefore, 
flings away the main chance without a motive, 
any more than he voluntarily puts his hand into 
the fire or breaks his neck by jumping out of 
window. A man must live; the first step is a 
point of necessity : every man would live well, 
the second is a point of luxury. The having or 
even acquiring wealth does not prevent our en- 
joying it in various ways. A man may give his 
mornings to business, and his evenings to plea- 
sure. There is no contradiction in this ; nor 
does he sacrifice his ruling passion by this, any 
more than the man of letters by study, or the 
soldier by an attention to discipline. Reason 
and passion are opposed, not passion and busi- 
ness. The sot, the glutton, the debauchee, the 
gamester, must all have money, to make their 
own use of it, and they may indulge all these 
passions and their avarice at the same time. It 
is only when the last becomes the ruling passion 
that it puts a prohibition on the others. In that 
case, everything else is lost sight of ; but it is 
seldom carried to this length, or when it is, it is 
far from being another name, either in its means 
or ends, for reason, sense, or happiness, as I have 
already shown. 

I have taken no notice hitherto of ambition 
or virtue, or scarcely of the pursuits of fame 



THE MAIN CHANCE, 



or intellect. Yet all these are important and 
respectable divisions of the map of human life. 
Who ever charged Mr Pitt with a want of com- 
mon sense, because he did not die worth a 
plumb ? Had it been proposed to Lord Byron 
to forfeit every penny of his estate, or every 
particle of his reputation, would he have hesi- 
tated to part with the former ? Is not a loss of 
character, a stain upon honour, as severe a blow 
as any reverse of fortune? Do not the richest 
heiresses in the city marry for a title, and think 
themselves well off? Are there not patriots who 
think or dream all their lives about their coun- 
try's good ; philanthropists who rave about li- 
berty and humanity at a certain yearly loss ? 
Are there not studious men who never once 
thought of bettering their circumstances ? Are 
not the liberal professions held more respectable 
than business, though less lucrative ? Might 
not most people do better than they do, but that 
they postpone their interest to their indolence, 
their taste for reading, their love of pleasure, or 
to some other influence ? And is it not gene- 
rally understood that all men can make a fortune 
or succeed in the main chance, who have but 
that one idea in their heads ? Lastly, are there 
not those who pursue or husband wealth for 
their own good, for the benefit of their friends 
or the relief of the distressed? But as the 



THE MAIN CHANCE. 



399 



examples are rare, and might be supposed to 
make against myself, I shall not insist upon 
them. 1 think I have said enough to vindicate 
or apologize for my first position — 

u Masterless passion sways us to the mood 
Of what it likes or loaths ;" 

— or if not to make good my ground, to march 
out with flying colours and beat of drum. 



LONDON : 



PRINTED BY REYNELL AND WEIGHT, 
LITTLE PULTENEY STREET. 



BOOKS 

PUBLISHED BY 

C. TEMPLEMAN, 6 GKEAT POBTLAND STKEET, 

REGENT STREET. 



WOKKS 

OF 

THE LATE WILLIAM HAZLITT, 

A new and uniform Series, foolscap 8vo, cloth, 5s. each. 

EDITED BY HIS SON. 

JUST PUBLISHED, 
1. 

CHARACTERS OF SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS, 

FOURTH EDITION. 

His dramatic criticisms are much and deservedly admired; he 
seems imbued thoroughly with the spirit of Shakspeare. — Asiatic 
J onrnal. 

The present volume is a splendid gem that no reader of Shakspeare 
should lack ; the twaddle of the one hundred and one commentators 
all vanishes before the sunshine Hazlitt sheds on Nature's best expo- 
sitor. — Sunday Times. 

It is the criticism of a man of great wit and talent, and therefore 
picturesque, acute, and poetical. It deserves the public reception 
which we have no doubt it will amply receive. — Bell's Messenger. 

This is a very pleasing book, and we do not hesitate to say a book 
of considerable originality and genius. What we chiefly look for in 
such a work is a fine sense of the beauties of the author, and an eloquent 
exposition of them — and all this and more may be found in the volume 
before us. — Edinburgh Review. 

The best commentary that has ever been written on the greatest of 
our poets. — Metropolitan Magazine. 

We have not a doubt of this neat, beautiful, and cheap edition 
of a highly original and valuable work meeting with a rapid sale, 



ii TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 

unless all the relish for the immortal dramatist, and all desire to possess 
some of the most eloquent and searching criticisms that have ever 
been written, have departed from us. — Monthly Review. 

Who has spoken with the same penetrative spirit, and in the same 
congenial vein ? Who has ever perused one of his glowing commen- 
taries on these plays without rising with a deeper perception and more 
intense love and admiration of their unapproachable divinity ? — Tait's 
Magazine. 



2.-3. 

TABLE-TALK: 

ORIGINAL ESSAYS ON MEN AND MANNERS. 

2 VOLS. THIRD EDITION. 

The present edition contains an Essay, now for the first time printed, 
" On Travelling abroad : " and another now for the first time collected, 
M On the Spirit of Controversy." 

Each Essay is a pure gathering of the author's own mind, and not 
filched from the world of books, in which thievery is so common ; and 
all strike out some bold and original thinking, and give some vigorous 
truths in stern and earnest language. They are written with infinite 
spirit and thought. There are abundance of beauties to delight all 
lovers of nervous English prose, let them be ever so fastidious. — New 
Monthly Magazine. 



4. 

CRITICISMS ON ART; 

AND 

SKETCHES OF THE PICTURE GALLERIES OF ENGLAND, 

WITH CATALOGUES OF THE PRINCIPAL GALLERIES. 



5. 

CRITICISMS ON ART. 

SECOND SERIES. 

WITH CATALOGUE OF THE PRINCIPAL GALLERIES OF ENGLAND. 

This is a very useful and valuable reprint of Hazlitt's well-known 
"Sketches of the Picture Galleries of England;" the reader has here 
before him, at one view, a larger amount of information, both critical 
m& practical, connected with high art, than is anywhere else to be 



TEMPLEM ANj 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. iii 

met with in an equal space; and unquestionably it is of a higher 
quality. Hazlitt's writings on Art are superior to those of any other 
English critic of our time. The book is of real and sterling value to 
all lovers and students of art; and will probably become one of the 
most popular of any of the numerous reprints of this writer's works, 
which have been so carefully and judiciously undertaken by his son. — 
Naval and Military Gazette. 

No man has done more to produce a love for art than William 
Hazlitt; he has taught us to read the poets by the light of his own 
genius, and lent us his discriminating and poetic mind to appreciate 
painting and sculpture. We are deeply indebted to him for the latter 
boon, because, unfortunately, the many can acquire a knowledge of 
art by books only. Most of our best collections are closed to the public, 
and the remaining few to which access may be obtained are not suffi- 
ciently popular to attract uneducated curiosity. In such a position no 
work is more calculated to lead the young student to knock at the 
doors of picture galleries than the one now under notice. It is too 
late in the day to add a laurel to the wreathed brow of Hazlitt, but we 
cannot help recording our entire satisfaction with all he says regarding 
Painting and Painters. — Court Journal. 

Mr Hazlitt's criticisms on pictures are instinct with earnest devo- 
tion to art, and rich with illustrations of its beauties. Accounts of 
paintings are too often either made up of technical terms, which convey 
no meaning to the uninitiated, or florid description of the scenes repre- 
sented, with scarce an allusion to the skill by which the painter has 
succeeded in emulating nature; but Hazlitt's early aspirations and fond 
endeavours after excellence in the art, preserved him effectually from 
these errors. He regarded the subject with perfect love * * * * 
* * * Mr Hunt says of these Essays, that they " throw a light on art 
as from a painted window,'" — a sentence which, in its few words, cha- 
racterizes them all, and leaves nothing to be wished or added. — 
Thoughts on the Genius and Writings of Hazlitt, by Mr Serjeant 
Talfourd. 



6. 

THE ROUND TABLE. 

A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS ON LITERATURE, MEN, AND 
MANNERS. 

THIRD EDITION. 

To speak of the merit of the Essays of the "Round Table " would 
be entirely superfluous, they having, by unanimous consent, been 
admitted amongst the standard literature of England. — Metropolitan 
Magazine. 



iv TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 

This collection of Essays is another worthy reprint of the famous 
critic and essayist's choice productions. — Monthly Review. 

" Open a book of his and you are hurried on with it irresistibly. 
This is the force of style, earnestness, and acute observation. The 
" Round Table " is well known, and justly prized as a series of Essays 
by him and Leigh Hunt— some of the most pleasant in the language. — 
Westminster Review. 



7. 

LECTURES ON THE ENGLISH POETS. 

WITH AN APPENDIX. 

THIRD EDITION. 

Hazlitt's observations are most acute; of his great talent there 
cannot be a doubt, and in some respects he might be entitled to pro- 
fundity, in that he could see much that others were blinded to; this 
cannot be denied. Stimulative in the highest degree, the brilliancy of 
the language, the boldness of the similitudes, the confidence the writer 
shows in himself, all are delightful. — Britannia. 

His observations are always striking on the score of original genius ; 
he perceived, with the strongest mental eye, the distinctive qualities 
of every image presented to him, and, combined with this faculty, the 
power of conveying it as forcibly to the reader. It is impossible not 
to be pleased with the life and force of his original conceptions — we 
may add also with the brilliancy of his imagination, which is never at 
fault for a striking image and similitude. — Bell's Messenger. 

The "Lectures on the English Poets" is perhaps one of the most 
generally interesting. He handles the subject with great gusto, meta- 
physical acuteness^ and rich illustration. One remarkable quality in 
Hazlitt's writings is his extraordinary abundance, justness, beauty, and 
felicity of quotation. — Westminster Review. 

From the canons of criticisms which it contains but few will be 
inclined to dissent, and all must admire the eloquent and powerful 
manner in which they are delivered.— Metropolitan. 



8. 

LECTURES ON THE COMIC WRITERS. 

THIRD EDITION. 
WITH ADDITIONS FROM THE AUTHOR'S OWN COPY. 

Hazlitt's relish for wit and humour, and his acute perception of the 
critical value of the good things he enjoyed, give to these discourses a 



TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. V 

raciness and gusto. It is like reading our favourite authors over again, 
in company with one who not only laughs with us, but points out the 
felicitous thoughts that please. He was a fine critic, and always writes 
from the impulse of thought ; and brilliant as is his style, he never, 
like too many of our would-be brilliants, sacrifices sense to sound. — 
Spectator. 

These Lectures on our great comic writers are worthy of being trea- 
sured up with the subjects of which they treat. How qualified he 
was to write on " Wit and Humour," how keen his relish, and how 
genuine his understanding of them ! the rich traces of a mind, from 
whose fine critical perceptions few of the profounder truths that lurk 
under the light graces and gaieties of our best comic writers could be 
hidden, while it was equally alive to the playfulness of the humour, 
and the enjoyment of the wit, amidst which those deeper beauties lay 
to be detected. The volume, in its present compact form, should com- 
mand many thousand readers ; it will entertain them all. — Examiner. 

We apprehend that our " Comic Writers," and the list is a noble one, 
will be read with a keener relish and finer appreciation of their beauties, 
by those who will take the trouble to read these eloquent and pleasing 
Lectures.— Britannia. 

He was the most readable of writers. The paper on Hogarth is one 
of the finest things in the English language. This is a work that no 
man of the present day could write ; one, too, which is a model of the 
best order of criticism. Hazlitt was a writer you did not merely read — 
you learnt his words — he was a man to quote.—Sunday Times. 

The discriminative criticisms on the " Tatler," " Spectator," and 
other essayists — on Hogarth, the comic dramatists, and on the later 
comic writers, are all well worthy of study. On the whole, we hope 
no reader of ours will fail to possess the book, as much from its 
philosophical spirit as for its fund of amusement. — Westminster 
Review. 



9. 

LECTURES ON THE LITERATURE OF THE 
AGE OF ELIZABETH. 

THIRD EDITION. 

A volume of nervous and eloquent criticism of the old English drama- 
tists and other writers. The acute discrimination of the critic, and 

the flowing fervour of his style, carry the reader along with him 

Spectator. 

Some of the best criticisms upon dramatic and general literature 
that have ever done honour to the mind of this country. There is 
no writer who abounds with more ample materials for thinking than 



Vi TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 

tbe author of these Lectures, and we wish their reproduction every 
success. — Morning Chronicle. 

Writings so well known, and so justly admired, as Hazlitt's "lec- 
tures on the Writers of the Elizabethan Age," are out of the juris- 
diction of periodical criticism — Asiatic Journal. 

He possesses one noble quality at least for the office which he has 
chosen, in the intense admiration and love which he feels for the great 
authors on whose excellencies he dwells. His relish for their beauties 
is so keen, that while he describes them, the pleasures which they 
impart become almost palpable to the sense ; and we seem to feast 
and banquet on their u nectar'd sweets." He draws aside the veil of 
time with a hand tremulous with mingled delight and reverence ; and 
descants, with kindling enthusiasm, on all the delicacies of that picture 
of genius which he discloses. His intense admiration of intellectual 
beauty seems always to sharpen his critical faculties. He does not 
coolly dissect the form to show the springs whence the blood flows all 
eloquent and the divine expression is kindled, but makes us feel it in 
the sparkling or softened eye, the wreathed smile, and the tender 
bloom. In a word, he at once analyses and describes, — so that our 
enjoyments of loveliness are not chilled, but brightened, by our ac- 
quaintance with their inward sources. His criticisms, while they 
extend our insight into the causes of poetical excellence, teach us, at 
the same time, more keenly to enjoy, and more fondly to revere it. — 
Edinburgh Review. 



10. 

SKETCHES AND ESSAYS. 

NOW FIRST COLLECTED BY HIS SON. 

We have no hesitation in saying that no one of his previous volumes 
surpasses it in the varied excellence of its contents— whether we regard 
the philosophical subtlety of their spirit of observation, the fearless 
force of their satire, the unrivalled critical acumen of their literary 
discussions, the felicitous truth of their pictures of society, or the 
power, the purity, and the brilliancy of their style. — Court Journal. 

In each and every page we recognise the familiar hand of the acute, 
sturdy, wilful, but benevolent philosopher — writing in the same lucid, 
short, and vehement style — heartily relishing beauty and genius wiier- 
ever he found them. Nor is the treatment less characteristic than the 
subjects ; plenty of quotable and memorable passages.— Examiner. 

They are characterised by original and deep thought. — Asiatic 
Journal. 

They abound in glowing images and brilliant passages. We know 
no living author that could rival them.— Sunday Times. 



TEMFLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 



vii 



They are stamped on every page with marks of his genius that 
cannot be mistaken, and will be welcome to all lovers of English litera- 
ture. — Monthly Chronicle. 



Uniform in size and binding with the previous volumes, price 3s. 
CHARACTERISTICS. 

IN THE MANNER OF ROCHEFAUCALT'S MAXIMS. 
SECOND EDITION. 

Here we have " in the rough" all the author's well-known theories 
of human character and action, as well as his happiest principles of 
criticism and poetry ; — truly admirable, profoundly reasoned, and well 
expressed. We commend them to general perusal. — Examiner. 

There is stuff enough in this one little book to make a reputation 
for a fine writer. It is full of familiar truths, new and startlingly 
shown; of wholesome teaching, and matter for reflection. — Globe. 

This book is a capital three shillings' worth of four hundred and 
thirty-four maxims — It is a compendium of wisdom, and is a feast 
at which all may find something to their taste — Sheffield Iris. 



Second Edition, foolscap 8vo, cloth, 4s. 6d. 
ESSAYS 

ON THE 

PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN ACTION. 

ON THE 

THEORIES OP HARTLEY AND OTHERS ; 

And, now first published, on 

ABSTRACT IDEAS. 

A work full of original remarks, and worthy a diligent perusal.— 
Sir E. L. Bulwer. 
It is a work of great ability. — Sir James Macintosh. 



Viii TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET* 



Post 8vo, with Portrait (published at 10s. 6d.) reduced to 4s. 
CONVERSATIONS 
OF JAMES NORTHCOTE, R.A. 

WITH WILLIAM HAZLITT, 

ON THE 

FINE ARTS AND MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS. 

Of fashion he quaintly says, " Fashion is gentility running away 
from vulgarity, and afraid of being overtaken by it. It is a sign the 
two things are not far asunder." This is excellent. The remarks 
upon what constitutes grossness or indecency in art are equally in- 
genious and true. These Conversations contain much fine thought, 
liberal criticism, and refined, yet solid and practical wisdom — Tait's 
Magazine. 



Two vols. 8vo, with Portrait (published at 28s.) reduced to 10s. 6d. 

LITERARY REMAINS 

OF THE LATE 

WILLIAM HAZLITT. 
WITH A NOTICE OF HIS LIFE, BY HIS SON ; 

AND 

THOUGHTS ON HIS GENIUS AND WRITINGS. 

BY SIR E. L. BULWER and SERJEANT TALFOURD. 

The work before us is a collection of Essays, literary, political, and 
philosophical. Valuing, as we do, the stem fidelity with which Hazlitt 
adheres to his subject, we are rejoiced to see these searching papers 
rescued from the obscurity of magazines and reviews. There are some 
interesting letters from Hazlitt, written in the years 1802 and 1803, 
expressive of the writer's first feelings on visiting the Louvre, and 
studying the immortal portraits of Titian, and creations of Raphael : 
we only grieve that these letters are so few in number, as they breathe 
the true feeling of the enthusiastic critic. The work, too, is enriched 
with some thoughts on the genius of Hazlitt, by the author of ' Eugene 



TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. ix 



Aram and * Thoughts,' by Serjeant Talfourd ; and a very faithful 
portrait of the fine head of Hazlitt. — Athenasum. 

He is at home in the closet — in the fresh fields — in the studies — at 
the theatre. He felt intensely; he imbued — he saturated himself with 
the genius he examined; his criticisms are therefore eminently scien- 
tific; and his remarkable faculty of saying brilliant things, in which the 
wit only ministers to the wisdom, is very conspicuous in all. A bio- 
graphical memoir is prefixed, and a clever characteristic portrait. — 
Literary Gazette. 



In 8vo, (published at 14s.) reduced to 6s. 6d. 

POLITICAL ESSAYS, 

WITH SKETCHES OF PUBLIC CHARACTERS. 

These political effusions are distinguished by a penetrating spirit, an 
analytical acuteness and insight into the springs of action, rarely found 
in temporary writings. How powerfully does Hazlitt paint the fell 
" Reign of Terror !" — Tait's Magazine. 



Second Edition, 8vo, (published at 10s. 6d.) reduced to 5s. 6d. 

SPIRIT OF THE ACE; 

OR, 

CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS. 

Contents : — Jeremy Bentham, Godwin, Coleridge, Rev. E. Irving, 
Scott, Home Tooke, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Macintosh, Mal- 
thus, GifFord, Jeffrey, Brougham, Burdett, El don, Wilberforce, Cob- 
bett, Campbell, Crabbe, Moore, Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb, and Wash- 
ington Irving. 

His views of Literary Men are almost invariably profound and search- 
ing. — Metropolitan. 

He has spoken of the most remarkable men of his time with a free 
spirit, though in general we think with justness, sagacity, and a delicate 
discrimination of the finer shades of character, and of those evanescent 
forms of expression which an inferior artist might in vain attempt to 
catch. In this respect Hazlitt is the Clarendon of his age. — Tait's 
Magazine. 



I 



TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 



THE WORKS OF IVEONTAICNE, 

EDITED BY 

WILLIAM HAZLITT. 

This is the ONLY COMPLETE COLLECTION of his WORKS 
that has appeared in the English Language. 

it contains : 

I. A Biographical Notice of Montaigne. 
II. A Bibliographical Notice of his Works. 
III. The Essays (Cotton's Translation), with the Notes of all the 
Commentators. 

IV. Montaigne's Letters. 
V. The Journey into Italy, through Switzerland and Germany 
(now first translated). 

VI. The celebrated Eloges of Mons. Jay and Mons. Villemain. With 
Portrait, Vignette, &c, royal 8vo., handsomely bound in cloth, 15s. 

The Essays of Montaigne make, in several respects, an epoch in 
literature. No prose writer of the sixteenth century has been so 
generally read, nor, probably, given so much delight. 

Montaigne is superior to any of the ancients in liveliness, in that care- 
less and rapid style where one thought springs naturally, but not con- 
secutively, from another. 

He is the earliest classical writer in the French language — the first 
whom a gentleman is ashamed not to have read. So long as an un- 
affected style, and an appearance of the utmost simplicity and good 
nature, shall charm, — so long as the lovers of desultory and cheerful 
conversation shall be more numerous than those who prefer a lecture or 
a sermon, — so long as reading is sought by the many as an amusement 
in idleness, or a resource in pain— so long will Montaigne be among 
the most favourite authors of mankind. — Hallam's Literature of 
Europe, vol. 2. 

Of those books to which we have recourse for pleasure or recreation, 
we have a particular fancy for a gossiping book — a collection of choice 
morceaux and short dissertations, in which an author gives us the cream 
of a diversity of subjects, without calling upon us for any rigid atten- 
tion, or nice examination of his arguments: — a kind which resembles 
the very best conversation, but which is, at the same time, more arti- 
ficially dressed up, and more elegantly turned. 

We feel no sympathy with the works of those authors who would do 
everything by the square and compass ; who would rudely snap the 
springs of feeling, and torture us unto wisdom and virtue. It is the 



TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 



Xi 



author who gives utterance to the promptings of the heart — who mingles 
human feelings with all his knowledge, that lays hold of our affection— 
and whom, above all, we love and venerate, — and such a one is Mon- 
taigne. — Retrospective Review, vol. 2. 

No language possesses a more delightful essayist than Montaigne; 
and we admire him, not so much for depth of thought, as for a charm 
which he has spread over all his writings, even by his very defects. 

The degree which nature claims in the diversity of talent, the efficacy 
of education, the value of the learned languages, the usages of society, 
the passions that actuate private life, the singular customs of different 
nations, are the subjects chiefly handled in his Essays. Jn the period 
from Socrates to Plutarch, such questions had been well treated before. 
But Montaigne was evidently the founder of popular philosophy in 
modern times. — Edinburgh Review. 

The diary of his travels, discovered many years after his death, never 
copied nor corrected, is singularly interesting ; it seems to tell us more 
of Montaigne than the Essays themselves; or rather, it confirms much 
said in those by relating many things omitted, and throws a new light 
on various portions of his character. 

The description which he gives of Rome, of the Pope, and all he saw, 
are short, but drawn with a master's hand — graphic, original and just ; 
and such is the unaltered appearance of the eternal city, that his pages 
describe it as it now is, with as much fidelity as they did when he saw 
it in the sixteenth century. 

The profoundest and most original thinkers have ever turned to his 
pages with delight. His skilful anatomy of his own mind and passions,-— 
his enthusiasm, clothed as it is in apparent indifference, which only 
renders it the more striking, — his lively and happy description of per- 
sons, — his amusing narrations of events, — his happy citation of ancient 
authors, and the whole instinct with individuality, — perspicuity of style, 
and the stamp of good faith and sincerity that reigns throughout, — 
these are the charms and merits of his ' Essays,' a work that raises him 
to the rank of one of the most original and admirable writers that 
France has produced, and one of the most delightful writers in the 
world. — Lardner's Cyclopaedia, vol. 105. 

There are three books which we expect to find in every person's 
library ; they are Shakspeare, Montaigne, and Horace, for there is in 
them more of life, of manners, morals, amusement, and instruction, than 
in all the other authors, in all other languages. — Bell's Messenger. 

A new and complete edition of the delightful writings of Montaigne 
should have a joyful welcome. There has never been in the world a 
more charming writer; certainly not one that has survived so many 
revolutions of time and taste, and still remains intelligible, instructive, 
and pleasant, as at first. — After the lapse of three centuries he is still 
the simplest, the best matured, the most agreeable, and the most un- 
affected of all the writers France has produced. — Examiner. 

A perfect desideratum. The Essays themselves are amongst the most 



Xii TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 

delightful productions of which the literature of any nation can boast ; 
lively, various, and gossiping, yet frequently profound, they teach philo- 
sophy in sport and wisdom in mirth ; they are so perfect in shape and 
hue, that they reflect heaven's own colours, and exhibit in practical 
operation some of the most striking and beautiful phenomena of nature. 
Yet to us they derive an additional value and importance from the cer- 
tainty they suggested to the mind of Bacon ; those immortal Essays. 
Montaigne illustrates by anecdotes — Bacon by reflections on the nature 
of man ; Montaigne is a pleasant companion — Bacon, a lofty tutor. 
We gain instruction from the society of each ; from the former, the 
knowledge acquired in busy life ; and from the latter, that which is 
wrung from the mind itself. — Britannia. 

Montaigne is a writer who formed the delight of our forefathers, 
and whose reputation has always stood high with men of the first genius 
and critical sagacity. In his Essays will be found the original of what 
has since done so much in popularizing literature. — Spectator. 

Few works are more deserving of republication than the delightful 
Essays of Montaigne. He is the best of all writers to lounge over by 
one's fire-side ; for, in taking up the volume, you need not begin at the 
beginning, but may dip into it just where you please, and so go rambling, 
now hurrying forward, now going back a page or two, as may happen to 
suit the caprices or indolence of the moment ; and in every page you 
will find either instruction or amusement, or both. — Sun. 

France, prolific in elegant writers, has given birth to none more 
delightful or amusing. As far as we have been enabled to compare the 
translation with the original, we have found it exceedingly accurate. 
The present edition we therefore hail as no inconsiderable accession to 
British popular literature, as Montaigne's works belong to no peculiar 
age or nation. They are as fresh, as vigorous, and as delightful as when 
they first saw the light. — Conservative Journal. 

As a writer he stands unequalled among practical moralists ; he has 
left in his Essays a fund of practical wisdom, calculated to throw light 
on the character of man in all ages, and to form an enduring guide and 
beacon to mankind. Upon almost every department of mental phe- 
nomena and every variety of human action has Montaigne touched, 
handling the whole with wonderful depth and sagacity of reflection, and 
pouring forth illustrations in rich excess from the stores of ancient and 
contemporaneous learning. His fertility in the latter respect renders 
his work not less entertaining than instructive. The style of expression 
is throughout vigorous and rich, the words bearing the living impress 
of the thoughts they convey. — Chambers's Journal, No. 504. 



TEMPLEMANj 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 



xiii 



Second Edition, with Portrait, 8vo, cloth (published at 10s.) reduced 
to 4s. 6d. 

RECOLLECTIONS OF CURRAN AND SOME OF 
HiS CONTEMPORARIES. 

BY CHARLES PHILLIPS, BARRISTER-AT-LAW. 

In the following pages I have endeavoured to sketch a likeness of 
Curran, as he lived in society, introducing such of his contemporaries 
as might serve to illustrate his character. My object has been to pre- 
serve as much as possible of the mind and manners of this extraordinary- 
man ; for the gratification of those who knew him, and for the infor- 
mation, however faint, of those who knew him not. This was my sole 
intention. — Vide Preface. 

It is always a matter of difficulty to draw the character of a person 
who belongs to another, and, in some particulars, a very different country. 
This has been felt in making the attempt to give a sketch of Mr 
Grattan, and whoever has read the most lively and picturesque piece of 
biography that was ever given to the world, Mr Phillips's ' Recollec- 
tions of Curran,' will join in the regret here expressed, that the present 
work did not fall into hands so able to perform it in a masterly manner. 
The constant occupation consequent upon great professional eminence 
has unfortunately withdrawn him from the walks of literature, in which 
he was so remarkably fitted to shine. — Lord Brougham's Speeches, 
vol. vi, p. 10. 



Second Edition, with Portrait, 8vo, cloth (published at 10s.) reduced 
to 5s. 6d. 

THE SPEECHES OF CHARLES PHILLIPS, ESQ., 

Delivered at the Bar, and on various Public Occasions in Ire- 
land and England. 

EDITED BY HIMSELF. 

N.B. More than 100,000 of these Speeches have been sold, separately ; 
and when collected, a very large edition was sold in a few months ; and 
of the present edition only a few copies remain unsold. 



xiv 



TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET, 



8vo, 430 pages, gilt, cloth (published at 12s.) reduced to 4s. 6d. 

NIMROD'S NORTHERN TOUR; 

Descriptive of the principal Hunts in Scotland and the North of Eng. 
land, with the Table Talk of distinguished Sporting Characters, 
Anecdotes of Masters of Hounds, Crack Riders, &c. &c. 

An interesting and amusing volume; every person fond of sporting 
anecdotes should possess a copy Monthly Review. 

The name of Nimrod is universally diffused. He has done for fox- 
hunting what the editor of the ' Almanach des Gourmands ' has done 
for gastronomy ; and the veriest cockney may derive unmingled gratifi- 
cation from his writings ; for independently of the descriptive powers 
displayed in them, they form one of the richest funds of racy anecdote 
we are acquainted with. 

Colonel Hawker and Mr Colquhoun are both writers of undoubted 
originality ; even they, we fear, will read tame after Nimrod's graphic 
sketches. — Edinburgh Review, 149. 



In 8vo, price Is. 6d. 

COSMO D E v MEDICI. 

AN HISTORICAL TRAGEDY. 

It is the pure old English School of Dramatic writing. — Sunday Times. 
If this tragedy do not excite a general interest, we shall indeed say that 
the legitimate drama is no longer appreciated. — Morning Advertiser. 



One vol. foolscap 8vo, cloth (published at 5s.) 2s. 6d. 

NINETEEN SELECT SERMONS 



On the Evidence and Duties of Religion, from the Works of the most 
eminent Divines. 

SUBJECTS. 

Atheism and Infidelity refuted from Rea- 
The Prodigal Son. [son and History. 
Conversation in Heaven. 
The Falsehood of Mahometanism de- 
duced from the History of its founder. 
The Situation of the World at the time 
[of Christ's Appearance. 



AUTHORS. 

Bishop Watson 
Dr Abraham Kees... 
Archbishop Tillotson 
Professor White ... 

Dr William Robertson 



TEMPLEMAN ; 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. XT 



John Balguy, M. A The Connection between Duty and Hap- 

Bishop Sherlock ... ... The Case of Cornelius. [piness. 

Dr Paulet St John ... The Death of the Righteous. 

Dr Nathaniel Lardner ... The good Exercise of Faith. 

Bishop Porteus The Duties of the Christian Sabbath. 

Dr Samuel Chandler ... The Origin and Reason of the Sabbath. 

Dr Paley ... .., ... Cautionin theuseof Scripture Language. 

Dr Hugh Blair Our imperfect Knowledge of a Future 

Owen Manning ... ... Discretion in Religion. [State. 

Dr Samuel Parr ... The Parable of the Marriage Feast. 

William Gilpin The Rich Man and Lazarus. 

Bishop Butler The Character of Balaam. 

Dr William Enfield ... Character of Abraham. 

Archibald Alison, LL. B. ... Evil Communication. 

An excellent Selection. 



In 12mo, pp. 330 (published at 7s.) reduced to 2s. 6d. 

A SERIES OF LAY SERMONS ON GOOD PRINCI- 
PLES AND GOOD BREEDING. 

By JAMES HOGG, the Ettrick Shepherd. 

It being likely that, after the publication of this volume, I shall be 
called to nil a chair of moral philosophy in some one of the cities of 
the United States, or Oxford, at least ; therefore, to prevent disap- 
pointment on one side, and awkwardness on the other, I hereby profess, 
that a great number of the most valuable maxims and observations in 
the following work are taken from a MS. translation of the works of an 
old French monk of the last century, whose name as the writer of them, 
or as an author at all, I have never been able to find out in any history 
or biography. — Preface. 



In 12mo, cloth lettered (published at 8s.) reduced to 3s. 

THE YOUNG CONCHOLOCIST'S BOOK OF 
SPECIES. UNIVALVES; 

Containing Descriptions of SIX HUNDRED SPECIES, and Illus- 
trated by many Figures. 

By SYLVANUS HANLEY, of Wadham College. 

The author is not aware of any English work on the Lamarkian 
system that would aid amateurs in their endeavours, and has therefore 



Xvi TEMPLEMAN, 6 GREAT PORTLAND STREET. 

compiled a descriptive catalogue of those shells which, from their mo- 
derate price and comparative commonness, will be most likely to reach 
the cabinet of the youthful amateur in this pleasing science. The re- 
ferences to figures are solely made to modern books. — Vide Preface. 



Post 8vo, (published at 8s. 6d.) 2s. 6d. 

ESSAYS AND SKETCHES OF CHARACTER. 

By the late RICHARD AYTON, Esq. 

They are full of energetic truth and beauty ; original in their views, 
delightful in their humour ; with a constant under-current of benevo- 
lence in their tendency. — Monthly Repository. 

Interesting and delightful Essays, which, by their force of truth and 
vivid illustration, forcibly remind us of Haziitt; and by their quiet, 
ticklish, and temeritous humour, of Lamb. — Monthly Review. 



In 9 vols, foolscap 8vo, cloth lettered, 2/. 5s. 

TALES AND NOVELS. 

BY MARIA EDGEWORTH. 

With Plates and Vignettes. 



In 8vo, (published at 5s.) reduced to Is. 6d. 

NARRATIVE OF THE PROCEEDINGS AND 
EVENTS IN CHINA. 

By the late JOHN SLADE, Editor of the Canton Register. 
Printed at the Canton Register Press. 



Keynell Rnd Weight, Printers, 10 Little Pullency street- 



PR Hazlitt, William 

4772 Table-talk 3d ed. 

T3 

1845 

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